Impact of emotionally negative information on engagement and disengagement processes in aging : a visual search paradigm in eye-tracking


Socioemotional selectivity theory posits the existence of a motivational positivity bias in aging, leading to a facilitated engagement towards positive information in older adults. However, several studies suggest that an early engagement toward negative information might still be present in aging, whereas the disengagement from negative information might be more efficient in this population. Yet, we suggest that the influence of negative information on early disengagement processes was not accurately assessed in aging studies and requires further investigation. In this perspective, 24 young adults and 30 old adults were eye-tracked while they performed a visual search task on a computer screen: the target was a means of transport with implicit (negative or neutral) emotional content, presented concurrently with one, three or five non-means of transport neutral distractors. Once participants found the target, they had to identify whether a break in the target frame was on the left or right. Young adults and healthy old adults detected negative targets more efficiently than neutral targets, showing a facilitated engagement toward negative information. Furthermore, it took longer for both groups, and even more so for old adults, to answer about the frame break location for negative rather than neutral target content (after accounting for initial fixation delay), showing a more difficult disengagement from negative information. The present study is the first to highlight an influence of negative information on both engagement and disengagement processes in aging.

Apr 4, 2018 — Apr 5, 2020
Glasgow, Scotland