Age Differences in Emotion Recognition: A Question of Modality?

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Previous research has suggested age deficits in unimodal emotion recognition tasks. In 2 studies with independent samples, we tested the idea that older adults’ performance will be enhanced in multimodal emotion recognition tasks. In each study, participants were presented with newly developed film clips, each portraying a young or an old woman while she relived an emotional memory. As a first step, participants received the film clips in each of 3 unimodal conditions (facial, lexical, prosodic). As a second step, participants were presented with tasks that contained different combinations of these modalities. Consistent with prior research, younger adults outperformed older adults in unimodal facial and prosodic tasks (Study 1) or in all 3 unimodal tasks (Study 2). As predicted, older adults profited more from multimodal stimuli than young adults so that there were no age deficits in the multimodal tasks (Studies 1 and 2). The findings support the idea that the ecological validity of laboratory tasks influence age differences in emotion recognition.

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