It has been suggested that an age-related positivity effect may only occur in the context of explicit information processing, but it is unclear whether this bias extends to the processing of rapid facial reactions. In addition, most studies that have looked for evidence of age-related implicit positivity have used attentional (as opposed to sensory) unawareness paradigms, or used broad-based indicators of attentional awareness that do not speak to the nature of the affective response. In the present study, younger and older adults were therefore asked to view non-facial images presented supraliminally (i.e., consciously) as well as outside of sensory awareness (i.e., subliminally) while their facial reactions were indexed using electromyography. The results indicated that both younger and older adults exhibited rapid facial reactions congruent with the emotional valence of non-facial images in both supraliminal and subliminal conditions. Relative to young, older adults did not respond with greater zygomaticus (cheek) activity to positive stimuli or reduced corrugator (brow) activity to negative stimuli in either condition. These data show that rapid facial reactions to emotional stimuli are intact in late adulthood, even in response to stimuli that activate more automatic and implicit forms of emotion processing. However, there is no evidence for any age-related positivity bias in these behavioral responses.
Nangle, M., Bailey, P., Henry, J., Khlentzos, G., Varcin, K., & Whitton, A. (2018). Age invariance in rapid facial affective reactions to emotionally valenced stimuli. THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470218.2017.1345960