Detecting Subtle Expressions: Older Adults Demonstrate Automatic and Controlled Positive Response Bias in Emotional Perception

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Abstract

The present study examined age differences in emotional perception for the detection of low-intensity, single-emotion facial expressions. Confirming the “positivity effect,” at 60 ms and 2,000 ms presentation rates older adults (age = 61+ years, n = 39) exhibited a response bias favoring happy over neutral responses, whereas younger adults (age = 18–23 years, n = 40) favored neutral responses. Furthermore, older adults favored neutral over fearful responses at the 60 ms presentation rate, relative to younger adults. The finding that age differences in response bias were most pronounced at the 60 ms versus 2,000 ms presentation rate suggests that positivity effects in emotional perception rely partly on automatic processing.

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