The Emotional Blink: Adult Age Differences in Visual Attention to Emotional Information

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To assess age differences in attention–emotion interactions, the authors asked young adults (ages 18–33 years) and older adults (ages 60–80 years) to identify target words in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) task. The second of two target words was neutral or emotional in content (positive in Experiment 1, negative in Experiment 2). In general, the ability to identify targets from a word stream declined with age. Age differences specific to the attentional blink were greatly reduced when baseline detection accuracy was equated between groups. With regard to emotion effects, older adults showed enhanced identification of both positive and negative words relative to neutral words, whereas young adults showed enhanced identification of positive words and reduced identification of negative words. Together these findings suggest that the nature of attention–emotion interactions changes with age, but there was little support for a motivational shift consistent with emotional regulation goals at an early stage of cognitive processing.

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