Positivity Effects in Older Adults’ Perception of Facial Emotion: The Role of Future Time Perspective

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Abstract

Objectives.

We examined age differences in the perception of emotion from facial expressions, testing the impact of future time perspective on positivity effects and emotion complexity.

Methods.

Perception of emotion was assessed in older (n = 111) and younger (n = 127) adults using facial expressions depicting clearly expressed and ambiguous emotions. A more open-ended judgment paradigm was used, and time perspective was experimentally manipulated.

Results.

Older adults perceived more positive affect in the expressions compared with younger adults. Ambiguity of the expression modulated these age differences, as older adults perceived more positive emotion in ambiguous expressions compared with younger adults. Emotion complexity emerged only in perception of negative expressions, with older adults seeing more mixed affect in the clear expressions than younger adults. Manipulation of future time perspective eliminated age differences in perception of positive affect.

Discussion.

Age differences in the perception of emotional expressions showed positivity effects, especially for ambiguous facial expressions. These effects were related to time perspective rather than to age per se. The understanding of the positivity effect in older adults needs to consider the proposed causal role of limited time perspective rather than assuming positivity effects in all older adults.

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