The Role of Empathy and Emotion Recognition in Prejudice and Right-Wing Authoritarianism in Older Adults
Research suggests that older adults are higher in racial prejudice and Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) than younger adults, and that these differences may be attributable to executive functioning deficits. However, ageing also brings changes in social cognitive functioning, including empathy and emotion recognition, and the role of these factors in older adults’ social attitudes has not been sufficiently explored. In this thesis, I examined executive functioning, empathy, emotion recognition, prejudice toward Asians, and RWA in older and younger adults. Older adults were significantly lower in explicit prejudice and higher in RWA than younger adults. Using regression analyses, I found that age differences in explicit prejudice were not independent of emotion recognition, and age differences in RWA were not independent of executive functioning. Within-groups analyses showed that empathy, executive functioning, and emotion recognition did not relate to prejudice or RWA in younger adults. In older adults, emotion recognition and empathy predicted explicit prejudice, perspective-taking predicted implicit prejudice, and emotion recognition and executive functioning predicted RWA. The effect of emotion recognition on RWA in older adults was independent of feelings of threat and anxiety toward the outgroup, but the effect of emotion recognition on explicit prejudice was not. This suggests that emotion recognition difficulties in older adults lead to greater feelings of threat and greater expression of prejudice, and also may lead to difficulty understanding that extreme right-wing attitudes are offensive to others.
Advisor: Ruffman, Ted
Degree Name: Master of Science
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: emotion recognition; empathy; prejudice; older adults; right wing authoritarianism; executive functioning
Research Type: Thesis