Age-Related Declines in Basic Social Perception: Evidence From Tasks Assessing Eye-Gaze Processing

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Abstract

Previous research has investigated age differences in complex social perception tasks such as theory of mind and emotion recognition, with predominant findings of age-related declines. The present study investigated whether there are also age-related changes in basic aspects of social perception. Individuals' ability both to detect subtle differences in eye-gaze direction (e.g., where someone is looking in the environment) and to subsequently use these gaze cues to engage in joint attention with others was assessed. Age-related declines were found in the detection of the most subtle differences in gaze aversion. The ability to engage in joint attention by following gaze cues also declined with age. These age differences were not solely attributable to age impairments in visual perception and visual attention. The potential role of age-related neural declines in social perception problems was considered, along with the implications that age deficits in these basic social skills may have for older adults' social perception.

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