The positivity effect in older adults: the role of affective interference and inhibition

Aging Ment Health. 2010 Mar;14(2):129-37. doi: 10.1080/13607860903228754.


Objectives: Research shows that aging often involves a decrease in the experience of negative affect and might even be associated with a stabilization or an increase in experience concerning positive affect. As it has been suggested that these changes could be related to the processing of emotional information, the aim of this study was to investigate interference and inhibition toward sad and happy faces in healthy elderly people compared to a younger population.

Method: We used an affective modification of the negative priming task. If interference is related to enhanced inhibition, reduced interference from negative stimuli and a related weakened inhibition toward negative stimuli in the elderly group would be in line with the positivity hypothesis.

Results: As expected, the results indicated that interference from negative stimuli was significantly lower in older adults as compared to younger adults, whereas this was not the case for positive stimuli. Moreover, at inhibitory level a significantly reduced processing of negative stimuli was observed only in the older adult group, whereas there was no such effect in the case of positive material.

Conclusion: These observations are indicative for a decreased negative bias in older adults at information processing level. This provides new insights with regard to age-related differences in emotion processing.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reaction Time
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires