Sensitivity to Emotion Specified in Facial Expressions and the Impact of Aging and Alzheimer's Disease
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philisophy (PhD)
This thesis describes a program of research that investigated the sensitivity of healthy young adults, healthy older adults and individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) to happiness, sadness and fear emotion specified in facial expressions. In particular, the research investigated the sensitivity of these individuals to the distinctions between spontaneous expressions of emotional experience (genuine expressions) and deliberate, simulated expressions of emotional experience (posed expressions). The specific focus was to examine whether aging and/or AD effects sensitivity to the target emotions. Emotion-categorization and priming tasks were completed by all participants. The tasks employed an original set of cologically valid facial displays generated specifically for the present research. The categorization task (Experiments 1a, 2a, 3a, 4a) required participants to judge whether targets were, or were not showing and feeling each target emotion. The results showed that all 3 groups identified a genuine expression as both showing and feeling the target emotion whilst a posed expression was identified more frequently as showing than feeling the emotion. Signal detection analysis demonstrated that all 3 groups were sensitive to the expression of emotion, reliably differentiating expressions of experienced emotion (genuine expression) from expressions unrelated to emotional experience (posed and neutral expressions). In addition, both healthy young and older adults could reliably differentiate between posed and genuine expressions of happiness and sadness, whereas, individuals with AD could not. Sensitivity to emotion specified in facial expressions was found to be emotion specific and to be independent of both the level of general cognitive functioning and of specific cognitive functions. The priming task (Experiments 1b, 2b, 3b,4b) employed the facial expressions as primes in a word valence task in order to investigate spontaneous attention to facial expression. Healthy young adults only showed an emotion-congruency priming effect for genuine expressions. Healthy older adults and individuals with AD showed no priming effects. Results are discussed in terms of the understanding of the recognition of emotional states in others and the impact of aging and AD on the recognition of emotional states. Consideration is given to how these findings might influence the care and management of individuals with AD.