The age-related positivity effect: forgetting the negative and/or remembering the positive? An inter-task study.

Pierrick Laulan, Gwenaelle Catheline, Willy Mayo, Christelle Robert, Stéphanie Mathey
Geriatr Psychol Neuropsychiatr Vieil. 2021-09-27; :
DOI: 10.1684/pnv.2020.0901

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Laulan P(1), Catheline G(2), Mayo W(3), Robert C(4), Mathey S(4).

Author information:
(1)Laboratoire de psychologie Labpsy – EA 4139, Université de Bordeaux, Bordeaux
France, INCIA – CNRS UMR 5287, Université de Bordeaux, Bordeaux France.
(2)INCIA – CNRS UMR 5287, Université de Bordeaux, Bordeaux France, EPHE, PSL
Research University, Bordeaux France.
(3)INCIA – CNRS UMR 5287, Université de Bordeaux, Bordeaux France.
(4)Laboratoire de psychologie Labpsy – EA 4139, Université de Bordeaux, Bordeaux

A growing number of studies have shown that when compared to younger adults,
older adults are better at recalling positive information than negative
information. However, it is not yet clear whether this age-related positivity
effect relies on a greater ability to recall positive information or on a
decreased ability to recall negative information. We therefore aimed to study the
specific mechanisms underlying the age-related positivity effect using different
memory tasks. We used an emotional word memory paradigm including immediate free
recall, recognition, and delayed free recall tasks. Forty-five young adults (m =
20.0 years) and 45 older adults (m = 69.2 years) participated, all of whom were
native French speakers. Thirty-six French low-arousal words (12 positve, 12,
negative, 12 neutral) were selected from an emotional lexical database (Gobin et
al. 2017) and divided into three equal groups of positive, neutral and negative
terms. For the recognition task, 36 new words were selected. The results show
that the age-related positivity effect specifically depended on a decrease in
negativity preference (i.e., the comparison between negative and neutral words)
in older adults, in comparison with younger adults, both in the immediate and
delayed free recall tasks. In these tasks, younger adults recalled more negative
than neutral words, whereas there was no difference in older adults. During the
recognition task, no age-related positivity effect was observed. The results also
show that, for the immediate recall task, the greater the memory ability of older
adults, the lower their negativity preference. This correlation was not
significant in the delayed recall task. These results suggest that, when compared
with younger adults, older adults disengage from processing negative words that
require costly cognitive processes. A low negativity preference indicates that
memory abilities are well-maintained. The results are discussed within the
framework of socio-emotional selectivity theory.


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