Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Lebenswissen­schaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Psychologie

The perception of emotions shown by the elderly

This project investigates how emotion expressions shown by the elderly are perceived and reacted to by younger individuals. The communication of emotions between the elderly and younger individuals has largely been studied by focusing on the ability of the elderly to understand the emotions expressed by younger individuals with an almost complete neglect of the converse process. However, emotion communication is a two way process and only if both parties are able to understand each other can the process proceed smoothly.
Extant research is limited but suggests that decoding accuracy varies with age congruence between encoder and decoder. As well, the affective expressions of older individuals may be harder to decode owing to age-related structural changes in the face. In addition, age related stereotypes can bias the perception of ambiguous expressions shown by the elderly. In fact, recent research in our laboratory shows that when identical emotion expressions are shown by young and old individuals they are rated as equal in overall intensity. However, the expressions shown by the older individuals are rated as weaker on the intended emotion and higher on other, unrelated, emotions. For example, happy expressions when shown by the elderly were rated as less happy, but also as more fearful, angry and sad. This suggests that the age related changes in the face "confuse" raters as to the emotion expressed, thus they perceive additional emotion information. Additional ratings when images were filtered to reduce the impact of wrinkles while still allowing the identification of the face as young or old suggested an additional impact of stereotype information. Together, these findings suggest that facial expressions shown by the elderly are subject to interpretative bias. This bias seems to also impact on mimicry reactions to expressions by the elderly.
Simard, A., Stevenson, M. T., Adams, R. B. Jr., Kleck, R., Hess, U. (2010). L'influence des stéréotypes liés à l'âge et au genre sur la perception des emotions. Poster accepted for the 31st congrès annuel de la Société québécoise pour la recherche en psychologie Montreal, Qc, March, 19-21.
Lasalle, M. Simard, A., & Hess, U. (2009). Will you still mimic me when I am 64? Mimicry of older faces.  Poster presented at the 49th Annual Meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research, Berlin, October 21-24.