How negative emotions affect young and older adults' numerosity estimation performance

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2022 Jul 7;17470218221107766. doi: 10.1177/17470218221107766. Online ahead of print.


In this study, we investigated the influence of negative emotions on numerosity estimation and whether this influence changes with aging during adulthood. Young and older adults were asked to estimate and compare the numerosity of collections of elements (cars or dots) with a two-digit number. Collections of elements were preceded by emotionally neutral (e.g., mushrooms) or emotionally negative (e.g., a corpse) pictures. Stimuli were easier (i.e., small-ratio) or harder (i.e., large-ratio) items. Young and older participants obtained similar numerosity estimation performance. Interestingly, participants were less accurate under negative emotions than under neutral emotions when they estimated numerosity of collections of abstract elements (i.e., dots). In contrast, participants improved their performance under negative emotions while estimating collections of non-abstract, daily-life elements (i.e., cars). These findings have important implications for furthering our understanding of the role of negative emotions in numerosity estimation and age-related differences therein.

Keywords: Emotion; aging; cognition; numerosity.