Attachment and Emotion Perception Accuracy in Younger and Older Adults

Presenter: Matthew Murry

Research Category:
Student Type: Graduate
PI: Derek Isaacowitz
Award Winner Category: Social Sciences, Business and Law

According to attachment theory, how individuals perceive their social environment is a product of their past close relationships. Past research has investigated how individuals’ attachment style – the level of anxiety and avoidance they feel in relationships – may influence how they perceive the emotions of others. The ability to perceive the emotions of others has received particular interest because it is thought to influence a wide range of interpersonal interactions. Despite that attachment has been proposed as a lifelong construct, research has focused primarily on younger adults. The aim of the current study was to extend previous research focusing on attachment and emotion perception accuracy with a sample of both younger (18-25 years) and older adults (over 60 years). In a sample consisting of 32 younger and 27 older adults, attachment anxiety and avoidance were assessed (ECR-R). Emotion perception accuracy was measured with a task that asked participants to identify emotions from static facial expressions. Attachment anxiety and avoidance were significantly higher in younger adults compared to older adults. Avoidance was not related to overall emotion perception accuracy in either age group. Anxiety was positively related to overall emotion perception accuracy in younger adults, but not older adults. In sum, younger adults with high attachment anxiety appear to have higher accuracy when identifying the emotions of others, but this relationship did not appear in older adults.