Emotion recognition in context

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Stanley, Jennifer Tehan
Blanchard-Fields, Fredda
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In spite of evidence for increased maintenance and/or improvement of emotional experience in older adulthood, past work suggests that young adults are better able than older adults to identify emotions in others. Typical emotion recognition tasks employ a single-closed-response methodology. Because older adults are more complex in their emotional experience than young adults, they may approach such response-limited emotion recognition tasks in a qualitatively different manner than young adults. The first study of the present research investigated whether older adults were more likely than young adults to interpret emotional expressions (facial task) and emotional situations (lexical task) as representing a mix of different discrete emotions. In the lexical task, older adults benefited more than young adults from the opportunity to provide more than one response. In the facial task, however, there was a cross-over interaction such that older adults benefited more than young adults for anger recognition, whereas young adults benefited more than older adults for disgust recognition. A second study investigated whether older adults benefit more than young adults from contextual cues. The addition of contextual information improved the performance of older adults more than that of young adults. Age differences in anger recognition, however, persisted across all conditions. Overall, these findings are consistent with an age-related increase in the perception of mixed emotions in lexical information. Moreover, they suggest that contextual information can help disambiguate emotional information.
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