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Justine M. Y. Spencer, Allison B. Sekuler, Patrick J. Bennett, Martin A. Giese, Karin S. Pilz; Effects of aging on discriminating emotions from point-light walkers. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):480. doi: 10.1167/10.7.480.
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The visual system is able to recognize human motion simply from point lights attached to the major joints of an actor. Moreover, it has been shown that younger adults are able to recognize emotions from such dynamic point-light displays. Here, we investigated whether the ability to recognize emotions from point-light displays changes with age. There is accumulating evidence that older adults are less sensitive to emotional stimuli. For example, it has been shown that older adults are impaired in recognizing emotional expressions from static faces. In addition, it has been shown that older adults have difficulties perceiving visual motion, which might be helpful to recognize emotions from point-light displays. In the current study, ten older (mean = 70.4 years) and ten younger adults (mean = 26.1 years) were asked to identify three emotions (happy, sad, and angry) displayed by four types of point-light walkers: upright and inverted normal walkers, which contained both local motion and global form information; upright scrambled walkers which contained only local motion information; and upright random-position walkers which contained only global form information. Observers in both age groups were able to recognize emotions from all types of point-light walkers, but performance was best with upright-normal walkers, worst with scrambled walkers, and intermediate with random-position and inverted-normal walkers. Older subjects performed worse than younger subjects in the scrambled and random-position conditions, but no age difference was found in the upright- and inverted-normal conditions. These results suggest that both older and younger adults are able to recognize emotions from point-light walkers on the basis of local motion or global form information alone. However, performance is best when both form and motion information are presented simultaneously, an effect which is enhanced in older subjects.
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