Noh, S., Larcom, M., Liu, X., & Isaacowitz, D. M. (2012). The role of affect in attentional functioning for younger and older adults. Frontiers In Psychology, 3doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00311

Although previous research has shown that positive affect (PA) and negative affect (NA) modulate attentional functioning in distinct ways, few studies have considered whether the links between affect and attentional functioning may vary as a function of age. Using the Attention Network Test (Fan et al., 2002), we tested whether participants’ current state of PA and NA influenced distinct attentional functions (i.e., alerting, orienting, and executive attention) and how the relationships between affective states and attentional functioning differ in younger (18–25 years) and older (60–85 years) age groups. While there were age differences in alerting efficiency, these age differences were mediated by PA, indicating that the higher state PA found in older adults may contribute to age differences in alerting. Furthermore, age group moderated the relationship between PA and orienting as well as NA and orienting. That is, higher levels of PA and lower levels of NA were associated with enhanced orienting efficiency in older adults. Neither PA nor NA had any influence on executive attention. The current results suggest that PA and NA may influence attentional functioning in distinct ways, but that these patterns may depend on age groups.

Rovenpor, D. R., Skogsberg, N. J., & Isaacowitz, D. M. (2012). The Choices We Make: An Examination of Situation Selection in Younger and Older Adults. Psychology And Aging, doi:10.1037/a0030450

The current study examined the effects of age and control beliefs on the use of situation selection. Younger and older adults spent 15 min in a room containing multiple affective streams that varied in emotional valence, and were given free choice to engage with whatever they wanted. No significant main effect of age emerged on the number of choices of, or time spent with, material of each valence. However, age and beliefs interacted such that older adults with strong emotion regulation self-efficacy and general control beliefs chose fewer negative stimuli, whereas younger adults with strong beliefs chose more negative stimuli. Results are discussed from aging and individual differences perspectives.

Isaacowitz, D.M. (2012). Mood regulation in real time: Age differences in the role of looking. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21, 237-242.

Mechanisms have been proposed to underlie differences between younger and older adults in real-time mood regulation, but these mechanisms have not been shown to predict mood outcomes.  One such mechanism is age-related positivity effects in attention and memory.  In this article, I take one form of this possible mechanism–positive looking patterns–and consider (a) whether older adults, compared with younger adults, prefer positive looking and (b) whether positive looking helps older adults regulate their mood in real time.  Evidence is more consistent for the former than the latter.  A similar consideration is needed for other possible forms of positivity effects (e.g., positive memory) and other possible mechanisms that may explain age differences in real-time mood regulation.

Isaacowitz, D.M., & Choi, Y. (2012). Looking, feeling, doing: Are there age differences in attention, mood and behavioral responses to skin cancer information?  Health Psychology, 31, 650-659.

Overview: Previous studies on aging and attention to emotional information found that older adults may look away from negative stimuli to regulate their moods. However, it is an open question whether older adults’ tendency to look less at negative material comes at the expense of learning when negative information is also health-relevant. This study investigated how age-related changes in attention to negative but relevant information about skin cancer risk reduction influenced both subsequent health behavior and mood regulation. Methods: Younger (18–25 years of age, n = 78) and older (60–92 years of age, n = 77) adults’ fixations toward videos containing negatively valenced content and risk-reduction information about skin cancer were recorded with eye-tracking. Self-reported mood ratings were measured throughout. Behavioral outcome measures (e.g., answering knowledge questions about skin cancer, choosing a sunscreen, completing a skin self-exam) assessed participants’ learning of key health-relevant information, their interest in seeking additional information, and their engagement in protective behaviors. Results: Older adults generally looked less at the negative video content, more rapidly regulated their moods, and learned fewer facts about skin cancer; yet, they engaged in a greater number of protective behaviors than did younger adults. Conclusions: Older adults may demonstrate an efficient looking strategy that extracts important information without disrupting their moods, and they may compensate for less learning by engaging in a greater number of protective behaviors. Younger adults may be distracted by disruptions to their mood, constraining their engagement in protective behaviors.

Isaacowitz, D.M., & Blanchard-Fields, Fredda; (2012). Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 3-17.

Current theory and research on emotion and aging suggests that (a) older adults report more positive affective experience (more happiness) than younger adults, (b)older adults attend to and remember emotionally valenced stimuli differently than younger adults (i.e., they show age-related positivity effects in attention and memory), and (c) the reason that older adults have more positive affective experience is because the positivity effects they display serve as emotion regulatory strategies. It is suggested that age differences in cognitive processes therefore lead to the outcome of positive affective experience. In this article, we critically review the literature on age differences in positive affective experience and on age-related positivity effects in attention and memory. Furthermore, we question the extent to which existing evidence supports a link between age-related positivity effects and positive affective outcomes. We then provide a framework for formally testing process-outcome links that might explain affective outcomes across adulthood. It may be that older adults (and others) do sometimes use their cognition as a regulatory tool to help them feel good, but that can only be demonstrated by specifically linking cognitive processes, such as age-related positivity effects, with affective outcomes. These concepts have implications for cognition–emotion links at any age.

Stanley, J.T., & Isaacowitz, D.M. (2012). Socioemotional perspectives on adult development. In S.K. Whitbourne & M. Sliwinski (Eds.), Handbook of Developmental Psychology: Adult Development in Aging (pp. 236-253). New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

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