Hitting the Wrong Note: Recognition of Music Emotions Decreases with Age
Effective emotion recognition underlies successful social interactions. Abundant research with facial emotions indicates that those necessary skills decline with age. Deficits in emotional understanding, and therefore social functioning, might impact mental health among the aging population. Consequently, there is a need to identify how and why age influences emotion recognition, such that measures can be taken to reduce negative impacts. Emotion recognition in other modalities has received some, but not adequate empirical investigation. The aims of the present study were to extend the aging and emotion literature using a novel set of music stimuli, and to investigate which mechanisms might explain consistently observed age effects. Young and older adults labelled emotions in a validated set of music clips and in an existing set of faces, and made age estimations in another set of faces. Older participants were significantly worse than young participants in each of the tasks. With respect to specific emotions, there were age-related decreases in recognition of happy, sad, peaceful, angry, and fearful music clips, and sad and angry faces. Older adults’ difficulties in each of the three tasks were not correlated with each other, suggesting that facial emotions are deciphered somewhat independently from face processing generally, and from emotions expressed in music. Fluid IQ did correlate with older participants’ emotion recognition in faces and music. However, age predicted emotion performance within the older group when fluid IQ was accounted for, inconsistent with a cognitive aging explanation. Similarly, age-related decreases in general motivation did not appear to underlie group differences because age group was negatively associated with performance on each task, after controlling for the other tasks. These results are discussed with respect to previous studies, and future research possibilities. Neuropsychological differences most likely underlie age-related decreases in emotion recognition ability, and should be the focus of research to come.
Advisor: Ruffman, Ted
Degree Name: Master of Science
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: emotion recognition; face recognition; music psychology; aging; musical emotions; neuropsychological decline
Research Type: Thesis