Aging and the Processing of Emotional Words, an Event-Related Potential Approach.

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2014 Gerontological Society of America Annual Scientific Meeting


Current knowledge of human attention with emotional material suggests distinct patterns of behavior in younger and older adults regarding emotional arousal and cognitive appraisal of emotional stimuli. In the domain of written word recognition, past research has identified emotional valence effects and word frequency effects at early and late stages that are believed to correspond to pre-lexical and post-lexical processing in younger adult samples. The current study sought to identify word frequency and emotional valence effects in a lexical decision task across a sample of younger and older adults in order to reveal distinct age-related patterns in the processing of written language with an emotional connotation. Behavioral and electrophysiological data were recorded from a sample of younger and older adults while completing a lexical decision task in which emotional words and phonologically correct nonwords were presented. In younger and older adult age groups, positive words were identified more rapidly than nonwords and common words were recognized faster and more accurately than uncommon words. Event-related potential data indicated no effects involving emotional valence at pre-lexical or post-lexical stages. However, an age group by emotional valence interaction suggested greater neurophysiological activation at the post-lexical stage (400-600 ms) in the younger adult sample for high frequency relative to low frequency words with no word frequency differentiation in the older adult sample. These findings suggest an age-related difference in word recognition at a post-lexical stage and have implications for both word recognition and emotional attention literatures.


James R. Houston, Mei-Ching Lien, Philip A. Allen