We examined age-related differences in facial expression recognition in association with potentially interfering variables such as general cognitive ability (verbal and visuospatial abilities), face recognition ability, and the experiences of positive and negative emotions. Participants comprised 34 older (aged 62-81 years) and 34 younger (aged 18-25 years) healthy Japanese adults. The results showed not only age-related decline in sadness recognition but also age-related improvement in disgust recognition. Among other variables, visuospatial ability was moderately related to facial expression recognition in general, and the experience of negative emotions was related to sadness recognition. Consequently, age-related decline in sadness recognition was statistically explained by age-related decrease in the experience of negative emotions. On the other hand, age-related improvement in disgust recognition was not explained by the interfering variables, and it reflected a higher tendency in the younger participants to mistake disgust for anger. Possible mechanisms are discussed in terms of neurobiological and socio-environmental factors.
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