The recognition of facial expressions: an investigation of the influence of age and cognition

Neuropsychol Dev Cogn B Aging Neuropsychol Cogn. 2012 Nov;19(6):657-76. doi: 10.1080/13825585.2011.645011. Epub 2012 Feb 28.


The present study aimed to investigate changes in facial expression recognition across the lifespan, as well as to determine the influence of fluid intelligence, processing speed, and memory on this ability. Peak performance in the ability to identify facial affect was found to occur in middle-age, with the children and older adults performing the poorest. Specifically, older adults were impaired in their ability to identify fear, sadness, and happiness, but had preserved recognition of anger, disgust, and surprise. Analyses investigating the influence of cognition on emotion recognition demonstrated that cognitive abilities contribute to performance, especially for participants over age 45. However, the cognitive functions did not fully account for the older adults' impairments on expression recognition. Overall, the age-related deficits in facial expression recognition have implications for older adults' use of non-verbal communicative information.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Regression Analysis
  • Young Adult