Poster B10, Sunday, March 25, 8:00-10:00 am, Exhibit Hall C
Aging Impairs Disengagement from Negative Words in a Dot Probe Task
Christine E. Talbot1, John C. Ksander1, Angela Gutchess1; 1Brandeis University
Age groups differ in how they attend to emotional information in a dot probe task, with emotionally valenced faces influencing older adults more than younger adults (Mather & Carstensen, 2003). Subsequent research on the dot probe with younger adults has demonstrated the importance of distinguishing between the processes of orienting to and disengaging from emotional stimuli (Salemink, 2007). In the present study, we examined the effects of aging as well as ability to orient to and disengage from emotional words in a dot probe task. Older and younger adults viewed word pairs (positive-neutral, negative-neutral, and neutral-neutral) and identified a probe that replaced one of the words in the pair as quickly as possible. Probes replaced either the emotional or neutral word. This design allowed for a test of whether effects of aging are larger for disengaging (identifying a probe that replaced a neutral word in an emotional-neutral trial), compared to orienting (identifying a probe that replaced an emotional word in an emotional-neutral trial), and whether the pattern is exaggerated for negative compared to positive stimuli. Attentional bias indices were calculated using mean reaction times for each trial type. Analyses revealed an interaction of age, valence, and trial type, with older adults showing a specific impairment in disengaging from negative words. These findings suggest that older adults have a reduced ability to disengage from negative stimuli, given increased inhibition requirements, and this impairment may influence how older adults perform in memory tasks in which negative stimuli are present.
Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Development & aging