Age effects on social cognition: Faces tell a different story

Michelle L. Keightley, Gordon Winocur, Hana Burianova, Donaya Hongwanishkul, Cheryl L. Grady*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    151 Citations (Scopus)


    The authors administered social cognition tasks to younger and older adults to investigate age-related differences in social and emotional processing. Although slower, older adults were as accurate as younger adults in identifying the emotional valence (i.e., positive, negative, or neutral) of facial expressions. However, the age difference in reaction time was largest for negative faces. Older adults were significantly less accurate at identifying specific facial expressions of fear and sadness. No age differences specific to social function were found on tasks of self-reference, identifying emotional words, or theory of mind. Performance on the social tasks in older adults was independent of performance on general cognitive tasks (e.g., working memory) but was related to personality traits and emotional awareness. Older adults also showed more intercorrelations among the social tasks than did the younger adults. These findings suggest that age differences in social cognition are limited to the processing of facial emotion. Nevertheless, with age there appears to be increasing reliance on a common resource to perform social tasks, but one that is not shared with other cognitive domains.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)558-572
    Number of pages15
    JournalPsychology and Aging
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2006


    • Aging
    • Emotion
    • Faces
    • fMRI


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