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Publication Detail
The effect of ageing and load on the perception of emotion
  • Publication Type:
  • Authors:
    Fairnie J
  • Date awarded:
  • Status:
  • Awarding institution:
    UCL (University College London)
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This thesis examines the role of ageing and load on the perception of emotion. Previous ageing studies on emotion perception have produced mixed results; in some cases the discrepancies can be accounted for in terms of either visual confounds or response biases. The present thesis addresses the effects of perceptual load and ageing using visually-matched stimuli, and a signal-detection analysis that assesses effects on detection sensitivity independently from response bias (Chapters 2-4). The implications for the effects of ageing and load on emotional distraction are also addressed (Chapter 5). Old adults (aged over 65 years) and IQ-matched young adults (aged 30 or younger) participated. In the signal detection experiments, participants were required to detect either the presence of one of two pictures depicting a negative or neutral emotion (depending on arrangement of the very same visual features, Chapter 2); or the emotional valence of words (Chapters 3-4). Distractor effects from the same words on reaction time (RT) were also assessed (Chapter 5). Tasks of full attention, divided or selective attention under different levels of perceptual load were used. The results established that under conditions of either full attention and short exposure durations, or low perceptual load, old adults retain the negative valence detection advantage typically found in young adults. High perceptual load (search tasks of similar items or subtle line discrimination tasks) modulated both the negative valence detection advantage, and distraction by emotional (versus neutral) content to a greater extent for old compared to young adults. These findings were reflected in detection sensitivity measures and distractor RT interference, not accompanied by any change in the response bias. Alternative accounts, in terms of visual confounds; age differences in acuity; subjective valence and arousal, were ruled out. The findings demonstrate the importance of considering age and perceptual load in determining the perception of emotion.
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