An Investigation into the Emotional Reactivity of Australian Older Adults: Are there age-related differences in the processing of affective stimuli?

Bronwyn Massavelli (2010). An Investigation into the Emotional Reactivity of Australian Older Adults: Are there age-related differences in the processing of affective stimuli? PhD Thesis, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Bronwyn Massavelli
Thesis Title An Investigation into the Emotional Reactivity of Australian Older Adults: Are there age-related differences in the processing of affective stimuli?
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2010-09
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Professor Ottmar Lipp
Associate Professor Nancy Pachana
Total pages 254
Total colour pages 1
Total black and white pages 253
Subjects 17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences
Abstract/Summary Abstract Earlier views on emotional processing and ageing characterised older age as a period of reduced emotional responding. At present, older age is recognised as a time where emotional experience is more salient and better controlled. However, the nature of older adults’ affective reactions remains unclear. Few studies have investigated age differences in emotional reactivity using the current standard picture-viewing methodology. A Pilot Study and seven experiments investigated the subjective, physiological and behavioural aspects of emotional experience, as well as the relationship between age and emotional learning. The Pilot Study investigated whether pictures from the International Affective Picture System are suitable to elicit emotion in older people. Experiments 1a and 1b investigated age-related differences in subjective responses to affective stimuli. Separate groups of younger, middle-aged and older adults viewed different subsets of affective pictures and provided valence, arousal, dominance (and fear) ratings using the Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM). The rating studies indicated that rated pleasantness did not differ across age. Prominent age-related differences were revealed for rated arousal. Older adults rated pleasant arousing pictures as less arousing and low arousing pleasant pictures as more arousing than did younger and middle-aged adults. Older compared to younger adults reported a higher perceived dominance in relation to arousing unpleasant pictures. This basic pattern was found in both experiments. Experiments 2 and 3 investigated whether the differences in ratings extend to the behavioural level of emotional experience. The effects of stimulus arousal (high versus low) on the evaluative categorization of pictures and on affective priming were investigated in three age groups. The evaluative categorisation task (Experiment 2) assessed whether age-related differences in rated arousal would be apparent in the speed of picture evaluation. Picture-valence and arousal interacted in determining evaluation speed for older as well as younger adults. The Affective Priming task (Experiment 3) assessed the impact of prime arousal on implicit picture evaluation. Affective priming was evident in all age groups, and prime arousal modified affective priming in a fashion similar to all age groups. Taken together, the behavioural data suggest no effect of the age differences in subjective ratings of stimulus arousal. Experiment 4 investigated the physiological manifestations of emotion. In phase 1, younger and older adults viewed a set of 24 affective IAPS pictures while their obicularis, zygomaticus and corrugator EMGs, skin conductance and heart rate were recorded. In phase 2, all participants provided subjective ratings for the same set of 24 pictures and a second set of 24 pictures not viewed in Phase 1. The subjective ratings replicated those of Experiment 1a. Differences in emotion driven physiological responding were evident. Blink magnitude was modulated by valence, but not in a way that differed between the age groups. Arousal did not modulate startle in ways that differed between the age groups. Corrugator activity was modulated by valence, with larger activity during arousing unpleasant and neutral than during pleasant pictures, but no difference during arousing unpleasant compared to neutral pictures. This pattern of corrugator activity did not differ with age. Zygomaticus activity during trials without a startle probe was enhanced during arousing pleasant relative to neutral and unpleasant pictures and did not differ across age. Overall SCR activity was reduced in older adults and both age groups showed larger skin conductance responses to arousing pleasant and unpleasant relative to neutral pictures. Regarding arousal, older adults showed lower SCR activity overall and the basic response pattern did not differ across age. Older adults showed less heart rate deceleration overall. Younger adults showed a triphasic waveform pattern, with larger initial deceleration whereas older adults showed less deceleration towards the end of picture presentation regardless of picture valence. Arousal did not modulate heart rate responses for either age group. Older adults showed less acceleration overall and more acceleration for arousing unpleasant and pleasant relative to neutral pictures, with no difference between arousing unpleasant and pleasant pictures. These findings suggest that older adults differ from younger adults in subjective and physiological responses to pictures. Experiment 5 investigated whether emotional learning differs for older people. Younger, middle-aged and older participants completed eight blocks of differential evaluative learning including a contingency reversal after four blocks. Participants provided valence ratings and expectancy judgments after each training block and post experiment. Like younger participants, the older and middle-aged participants detected contingency changes quickly and efficiently. Emotional learning, however, was reduced and did not respond to contingency changes in the same manner as in younger participants. This research extends previous studies that provided a mixed view of the subjective and physiological aspects of emotionality with increasing age. Taken together, age differences that manifest in the subjective experience of emotional arousal, and present to some extent in physiological responding do not appear to extend to the behavioural level of emotional processing. These findings have important implications for researchers, clinicians and aged-care practitioners who may rely solely on self-reported emotional reactivity. This research may have diagnostic implications for aiding the identification of cognitive and emotional changes or mood disorders in older age.
Keyword Ageing in Australia, Older Adults, Subjective Ratings, Emotional Processing, IAPS
Valence-Arousal, Learning, Priming
Additional Notes Page 56 as per the actual document (not page 76 as per the total pdf document which includes the roman numeral pages). There are three graphs on this page, labelled Figure 3.2

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Created: Wed, 29 Sep 2010, 10:43:48 EST by Miss Bronwyn Massavelli on behalf of Library - Information Access Service