Isaacowitz, D.M., & Choi, Y. (2011). The malleability of age-related positive gaze preferences: Training to change gaze and mood. Emotion, 11, 90-100.

Older adults show positive gaze preferences, but to what extent are these preferences malleable? Examining the plasticity of age-related gaze preferences may provide a window into their origins. We therefore designed an attentional training procedure to assess the degree to which we could shift gaze and gaze-related mood in both younger and older adults. Participants completed either a positive or negative dot-probe training. Before and after the attentional training, we obtained measures of fixations to negatively valenced images along with concurrent mood ratings. We found differential malleability of gaze and mood by age: for young adults, negative training resulted in fewer posttraining fixations to the most negative areas of the images, whereas positive training appeared more successful in changing older adults’ fixation patterns. Young adults did not differ in their moods as a function of training, whereas older adults in the train negative group had the worst moods after training. Implications for the etiology of age-related positive gaze preferences are considered.

Isaacowitz, D.M., & Murphy, N.A. (2011). Aging eyes facing an emotional world: The role of motivated gaze. In R. B. Adams, N. Ambady, K. Nakayama, & S. Shimojo (Eds.), The Science of Social Vision (pp. 133-150). New York: Oxford University Press.

Isaacowitz, D.M., & Noh, S.R. (2011). Does looking at the positive mean feeling good? Age and individual differences matter. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5, 505-517.

In this paper, we link age differences in gaze patterns toward emotional stimuli to later mood outcomes. While one might think that looking at more positive emotional material leads to better moods, and looking at more negative material leads to worse moods, it turns out that links between emotional looking and mood depend on age as well as individual differences. Though older people can feel good by looking more at positive material, in some cases young adults actually feel better by engaging visually with the negative. These age effects are further moderated by attentional abilities. Such findings suggest that different age groups may use looking differently, and this may reflect their preferences for using distinct emotion regulatory strategies. This work also serves as a reminder that regulatory efforts are not always successful at improving mood.

Isaacowitz, D.M., & Riediger, M. (2011). Introduction to the Special Section: When Age Matters. Developmental Perspectives on “Cognition and Emotion.” Cognition and Emotion, 25, 957-967.

Isaacowitz, D.M., & Stanley, J.T. (2011). Bringing an ecological perspective to the study of aging and emotion recognition: Past, current, and future methods. Invited target article, Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 35, 261-278.

Older adults perform worse on traditional tests of emotion recognition accuracy than do young adults. In this paper, we review descriptive research to date on age differences in emotion recognition from facial expressions, as well as the primary theoretical frameworks that have been offered to explain these patterns. We propose that this is an area of inquiry that would benefit from an ecological approach in which contextual elements are more explicitly considered and reflected in experimental methods. Use of dynamic displays and examination of specific cues to accuracy, for example, may reveal more nuanced age-related patterns and may suggest heretofore unexplored underlying mechanisms.

Noh, S.R., & Isaacowitz, D.M. (2011). Age differences in the emotional modulation of attention: Effects of emotional cues on attentional engagement and disengagement. The Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 23, 709-722.

This study used a modification of an attentional cueing task with emotional faces as cues to examine whether emotional cues influence the efficiency of alerting and spatial orienting, and whether the effects vary with the age of the faces and/or the age of the subjects. In this task, younger and older adults responded to the location of a target (left or right) preceded by a brief emotional cue (happy, sad, or neutral faces) or by no cue. Older adults showed a larger alerting effect than younger adults and this pattern was not further moderated by the valence of cues or the age of the faces. However, the results for the orienting effects indicated both age similarities and differences as a function of age of the faces. Both age groups exhibited orienting benefits from valid cueing by neutral and positive own-age faces, and showed orienting benefits for negative other-age face cues. Older adults appeared to be differentially influenced by orienting cues compared to younger adults as suggested by the cue-validity effect (i.e., response times slower for invalidly cued targets than for validly cued targets), especially for the own-age face cues. Whereas younger adults demonstrated the cue-validity effects for neutral and happy own-age face cues, older adults showed the cue-validity effects for the own-age face cues regardless of valence. The results highlight the importance of considering the age of the faces when assessing age differences in attention to emotional face cues.

Noh, S.R., Lohani, M., & Isaacowitz, D.M. (2011). Deliberate real-time mood regulation in adulthood: The importance of age, fixation and attentional functioning. Cognition and Emotion, 25, 998-1013.

While previous research has linked executive attention to emotion regulation, the current study investigated the role of attentional alerting (i.e., efficient use of external warning cues) on younger (N=39) and older (N=44) adults’ use of gaze to regulate their mood in real time. Participants viewed highly arousing unpleasant images while reporting their mood and were instructed to deliberately manage how they felt and to minimise the effect of those stimuli on their mood. Fixations toward the most negative areas of the images were recorded with eye tracking. We examined whether looking less at the most negative regions, compared to each individual’s own tendency, was a beneficial mood regulatory strategy and how it interacted with age and alerting ability. High alerting older adults, who rely more on external cues to guide their attention, experienced a smaller decline in mood over time by activating a less-negative-looking approach (compared to their own average tendency), effectively looking away from the most negative areas of the images. More negative gaze patterns predicted better mood for younger adults, though this effect decreased over time. Alerting did not moderate gaze–mood links in younger adults. Successful mood regulation may thus depend on particular combinations of age, fixation, and attention.

Stanley, J.T., & Isaacowitz, D.M. (2011). Age-related differences in profiles of mood-change trajectories. Developmental Psychology, 47, 318-330.

As a group, older adults report positive affective lives. The extent to which there are subgroups of older adults whose moods are less positive, however, is unclear. Our aim in the present study was to identify and characterize different subgroups of adults who exhibit distinct trajectories of mood change across a relatively short time period. Seventy-nine young and 103 older adults continuously reported their moods while viewing emotional and neutral faces. Cluster analysis revealed four subgroups of mood-change trajectories. Both the most positive and the most negative subgroups included more older than young adults (ps < .05), suggesting that not all older adults exhibit higher positive affect than young adults. Analyses of variance revealed that the most negative group exhibited slower processing speed, more state anxiety and neuroticism, and looked less at happy faces than the other groups (ps < .05). The results are discussed from an adult developmental perspective, focusing on the increased variability of mood trajectories in the older adults and whether this is a reflection of adaptive functioning or a potential harbinger of dysfunction.

Wadlinger, H.A. & Isaacowitz, D.M. (2011). Fixing our focus: Training attention to regulate emotion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15, 75-102.

Empirical studies have frequently linked negative attentional biases with attentional dysfunction and negative moods; however, far less research has focused on how attentional deployment can be an adaptive strategy that regulates emotional experience. The authors argue that attention may be an invaluable tool for promoting emotion regulation. Accordingly, they present evidence that selective attention to positive information reflects emotion regulation and that regulating attention is a critical component of the emotion regulatory process. Furthermore, attentional regulation can be successfully trained through repeated practice. The authors ultimately propose a model of attention training methodologies integrating attention dependent emotion regulation strategies with attention networks. Although additional interdisciplinary research is needed to bolster these nascent findings, meditative practices appear to be among the most effective training methodologies in enhancing emotional well-being. Further exploration of the positive and therapeutic qualities of attention warrants the empirical attention of social and personality psychologists.

Xing, C., & Isaacowitz, D.M. (2011). Age differences in attention toward decision-relevant information: Education matters. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 73, 299-312.

Previous studies suggested that older adults are more likely to engage in heuristic decision-making than young adults. This study used eye tracking technique to examine young adults’ and highly educated older adults’ attention toward two types of decision-relevant information: heuristic cue vs. factual cues. Surprisingly, highly educated older adults showed the reversed age pattern—they looked more toward factual cues than did young adults. This age difference disappeared after controlling for educational level. Additionally, education correlated with attentional pattern to decision-relevant information. We interpret this finding as an indication of the power of education: education may modify what are thought to be “typical” age differences in decision-making, and education may influence young and older people’s decision-making via different paths.

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