Adult Age Differences in the Interpretation of Surprised Facial Expressions

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Abstract

Research on adult age differences in the interpretation of facial expressions has yet to examine evaluations of surprised faces, which signal that an unexpected and ambiguous event has occurred in the expresser’s environment. The present study examined whether older and younger adults differed in their interpretations of the affective valence of surprised faces. Specifically, we examined older and younger participants’ evaluations of happy, angry, and surprised facial expressions. We predicted that, on the basis of age-related changes in the processing of emotional information, older adults would evaluate surprised faces more positively than would younger adults. The results indicated that older adults interpreted surprised faces more positively than did their younger counterparts. These findings reveal a novel age-related positivity effect in the interpretation of surprised faces, suggesting that older adults imbue ambiguous facial expressions—that is, expressions that lack either positive or negative facial actions—with positive meaning.

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