Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Adult Development and Aging

Department

College of Sciences and Health Professions

First Advisor

Allard, Eric

Subject Headings

Aging, Cognitive Psychology

Abstract

Visual change detection ability is necessary for successful interaction with the environment, yet few studies have been conducted on change detection with older adults, and whether their use of top-down and bottom-up processing differs from younger adults, especially with emotional processing. Emotions can be motivating and guide the scope of attention using top-down processing and can capture attention in an automatic, bottom-up fashion. Theories of socioemotional aging suggest that younger and older adults may be differentially motivated to process positive and/or negative aspects of the environment, and these tendencies may have implications for age-related trajectories in well-being. Change detection efficacy in older adulthood may be influenced by whether individuals process salient and motivationally relevant emotional stimuli. To address the impact of age and emotional information processing on change detection performance, two experiments were conducted. Experiment 1 addressed whether individuals differ in their detection of neutral and emotional object changes and whether such differences are influenced by age. Participants were instructed to detect the appearance or disappearance of positive, negative, and neutral objects to understand how these factors impact change detection ability. Positive preferences were noted for both age groups, with enhanced processing for positive onsets and negative offsets. The focus of Experiment 2 was to investigate the influence of four top-down motivations, prioritizing each visual change and valence on change detection by creating contexts in which the target may be initially non-emotional, but the target acquires emotional meaning based on the situation. The strength of Experiment 2 was to assess the role of explicit top-down motivations on how emotional goals and contextual features may impact change detection for younger and older adults, which could not be assessed in Experiment 1. Overall, negativity effects emerged in Experiment 2, wherein both younger and older adults prioritized processing of negative onsets in the threat condition, contrary to Experiment 1. The present research revealed many age similarities in change detection ability. Participants’ attention was commanded more heavily toward positive targets in the absence of a specific motivation, but when provided with explicit top-down motivation, participants’ attention was most sensitive for detection of threat.

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