Does Age-Related Stereotype Threat Affect Older Adults' Recognition of Emotion?
Atkinson, Lianne Emma
Emotion recognition is a cognitive ability that has been demonstrated to decline with age. Older adults (aged over 60) are consistently poorer than young adults (aged 18-30) at recognising anger, fear, sadness, and happiness. However, it is possible that such age differences have been exaggerated by a phenomenon known as age-related stereotype threat, whereby raising negative stereotypes about aging leads older adults to perform worse on relevant tasks. For instance, reminding older adults of stereotypes about age-related cognitive decline impairs their memory recall performance. There is reason to think that older adults’ recognition of emotions might be another cognitive ability that is compromised by stereotype threat. This idea was tested over three studies. In Study 1, young and older adults were exposed to a stereotype threat manipulation that implied either that 1) older adults or 2) young adults are expected to have inferior emotion recognition ability. A control condition (3) involved no allusion to age differences in emotion recognition. Participants completed a basic facial emotion recognition task and a task that involved identifying mental states expressed by eyes, in addition to measures of self-reported threat concerns and state anxiety. It was hypothesised that stereotype threat would lead older adults (but not young adults) to experience increased stereotype threat concerns and anxiety, which in turn, would impair older adults’ emotion recognition performance. Contrary to expectations, the stereotype threat manipulation did not lead older adults to experience increased threat concerns or state anxiety. Interestingly, young adults did report feeling more stereotype-threatened and anxious by the implication that their age group is typically worse at recognising emotions. Neither age group experienced impairments in their recognition of facial expressions or mental states. These findings raised questions about whether or not lay people actually believe that emotion recognition declines with age. Study 2 aimed to explore the current stereotypes about young and older adults’ emotion recognition abilities, in addition to their cognitive and social competencies. The results showed that, contrary to empirical evidence, lay people believe that older adults are equal to, or even better, than young adults at recognising emotions. Further, whereas participants believe older adults’ social competency to be comparable to that of young adults, they believe older adults’ cognitive ability to be inferior. Consequently, Study 3 involved framing an emotion recognition task as assessing either cognitive ability (believed to decline with age), social ability (believed to remain stable with age), or general abilities. It was hypothesised that older adults (but not young adults) would experience the greatest threat concerns when the task was framed as assessing cognitive ability, which, in turn, would impair their emotion recognition accuracy. Indeed, there was no effect of condition on young adults’ threat concerns or emotion recognition. As expected, older adults reported significantly greater threat concerns when the emotion recognition task was framed as assessing cognitive ability, compared to the other conditions. However, older adults’ emotion recognition accuracy remained unchanged, suggesting that the recognition of emotions may be one cognitive ability that is unaffected by stereotype threat effects.
Advisor: Murray, Janice E; Halberstadt, Jamin
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Older adults; stereotype threat; aging; age-based stereotype threat; emotion recognition; emotion; cognition
Research Type: Thesis