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Nicola Dimelow

Nicola Dimelow

Emotion Perception in Older Adults: The influence of stimulus type and experimental task.


Discipline/professional area

Outline of research project

My PhD research aims to provide a deeper and broader understanding of age-related emotion perception. In general the literature suggests that older adults, compared to younger adults have a deficit in recognising some negative emotions (ie sadness, fear and anger) but perform equally well in recognising positive emotions (ie happiness) (see Sullivan and Ruffman, 2004; for a meta analysis see Ruffman et al., 2008). My research addresses some of the methodological limitations of previous research by comparing emotion recognition performance using different presentation channels. For example, there is to our knowledge no published literature comparing the same participant’s performance across multiple stimuli types with closely matched non-emotion control tasks. 

My research has assessed age-related emotion recognition using facial expressions, non-linguistic sounds and single words. Three non-emotion tasks, which were visually and procedurally similar to the emotion tasks, were also created to determine if age-related differences in emotion recognition were due to the emotion content or the cognitive demands of the task. Also measures of cognition (intelligence or speed of processing, for instance) and individual differences (such as mood, empathy and personality) were obtained to uncover any contributors to age-related differences in emotion recognition. My current research utilises more ecologically valid stimuli, ie dynamic stimuli and simultaneous presentation of voices and facial expressions, to assess if the results obtained from laboratory-controlled stimuli are representative of more real world processing.

Key references

Sullivan, S., and Ruffman, T. (2004). Emotion recognition deficits in the elderly. International Journal of Neuroscience, 114, 403-432

Barrett, L.F., Mesquita, B., and Gendron, M. (2011). Context in emotion perception. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20, 286-290.

Carstensen, L.L., Pasupathi, M., Mayr, u., and Nesselroade, J.R. (2000). Emotional experience in everyday life across the adult lifespan. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 644-655.

Isaacowitz, D.M., Lockenhoff, C.E., Lane, R.D., Wright, R., Sechrest, L., and Riedel, R., (2007). Age differences in recognition of emotion in lexical stimuli and facial expressions. Psychology and Aging, 22, 147-159.

Phillips, L.H. and Slessor, G. (2011). Moving beyond the basic emotions in ageing research. Journal of Nonverbal Behaviour, 35, 279-286.

Ruffman, T., Henry, J.D., Livingstone, V., and Phillips, L.H. (2008). A meta-analytic review of emotion recognition and ageing: Implications for neuropsychological models of ageing. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, doi:10.1016/j.neurobiorev.2008.01.001.

Director of studies
Dr Jane Morgan

Dr Lisa Reidy
Dr Diarmuid Verrier

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