SATO Wataru Laboratory

Rapid detection of neutral faces associated with emotional value among older adults

(Saito, Sato, & Yoshikawa: J Gerontol Psychol Sci)

Previous studies using visual search paradigms have provided inconsistent results regarding rapid detection of emotional faces among older adults.
Furthermore, it is uncertain whether the emotional significance of the faces contributes to efficient searches for emotional faces due to the possible confounding effects of visual saliency.
We addressed this issue by excluding the influence of visual factors and examined older adults' ability to detect faces with emotional meaning.

We used an associative learning procedure in which neutral faces were paired with monetary reward or punishment, such that the neutral faces acquired positive or negative emotional value.
Older participants completed the associative learning task and then engaged in a visual search task, in which previously learned neutral faces were presented as discrepant faces among newly presented neutral distractor faces.
Data of young adults from a previous study that used identical experimental procedures were also analyzed.

Older participants exhibited lower learning ability than young participants.
However, older adults who were successful at learning were able to detect neutral faces associated with reward or punishment more rapidly than those without monetary outcomes, similar to the pattern observed for young adults.

The results suggest that acquired emotional value promotes the detection of value-associated neutral faces among older adults who succeed at learning.
It is therefore possible that the ability to detect faces that evoke emotions is preserved in older adults.

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