Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology



First Advisor

Allard, Eric

Subject Headings

Aging, Experimental Psychology


Emotion recognition is essential for interpersonal communication. However, previous research has suggested that older adults are not as accurate as younger adults in recognizing certain emotions, particularly negative facial expressions of anger, fear, and sadness. Including additional contextual information (e.g., manipulation of certain facial features) might help us better understand these age differences. The present study investigated how potential age differences in emotion recognition are influenced by stimulus factors (target eye gaze direction) as well as facial viewing patterns, cognitive functioning, and physiological processes. A sample of younger and older adults viewed static facial expressions depicting anger, fear, sadness, happiness, and disgust while their eyes were tracked. For the eye tracking analyses, focus was placed on the proportion of time fixated on the eye vs. mouth regions of the face. This was implemented on account of previous research suggesting that certain expressions are best discriminated through the eye region (i.e., anger, fear, and sadness) or the mouth region (i.e., happiness and disgust). Overall, participants were more adept at recognizing happy expressions relative to all the negative expression categories, with anger being the least recognized. Surprisingly, older adults had higher recognition accuracy for fear faces with an averted gaze. In terms of fixation patterns, significantly greater fixation preferences for eye relative mouth regions was observed for sad, anger, and fear relative to happy and disgust, but this was mainly driven by the younger adults. However, fixation patterns were not predictive of age effects regarding averted fear, or the age equivalence observed with the other facial categories. These effects could also not be easily accounted for by age differences in cognitive and physiological metrics. Rather, certain components of the task design (i.e., stimulus and response timing) might have impacted the recognition results. We frame our discussion in terms of how contextual and methodological factors can inform age-related trajectories in emotion recognition ability.