Can Older Adults Accurately Judge Their Learning of Emotional Information?

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Abstract

Prior research suggests that older adults judge their learning as well as young adults, but given age-related differences in the processing of emotional materials, older adults may show deficits in their judgment accuracy when they study emotionally charged words. In 2 experiments, we evaluated this possibility by having young and older adults study negative, positive, and neutral words. They made a judgment of learning (JOL) after studying each word and then later had a free recall test. In Experiment 1, young and older adults' JOLs were sensitive to negative words (higher JOLs for negative than neutral words). By contrast, whereas young adults' JOLs were sensitive to positive emotion (higher for positive than neutral words), older adults' JOLs were insensitive. In Experiment 2, we replicated this age-related deficit in sensitivity to positive emotion, as well as evaluated possible explanations for it. As important, in both experiments, JOLs were plotted as a function of input serial position, and the shape of these curves were not influenced by emotional valence or age group. Taken together, these results indicate that healthy aging largely leaves judgments of learning intact for negatively charged words.

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