Emotion Biases in Older and Younger Adults: Novelty Preference as an Index of Attention

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Brauer, Anne Lisa
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Past research indicates that emotionally-relevant stimuli attract visual attention, but also that the relationship between emotion and attention allocation varies between young and older adults. Although both young and older adults respond automatically to threatening stimuli, older adults spend more time attending to positive stimuli, while younger adults attend more to all types of emotional stimuli. This age difference is proposed to be an effect of older adults emotion-regulation goals in attention allocation. The present study used eye tracking to establish a sensitive measure of attention novelty preference and to observe the age-disparate effects of emotional valence on overt visual attention over time. Although older and younger adults showed similar novelty preferences to emotional (happy, angry, sad) stimuli compared to neutral and familiar stimuli, the time course of effect varied between the groups. Older adults allocated more attention to negative stimuli in the first few seconds of looking and more toward stimuli near the end of the 10-second looking period, whereas younger adults preferred all emotional stimuli to neutral and to familiar stimuli throughout the looking period. Novelty preference appears to be an effective way to measure differences in preferences for emotional information between age groups.
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