A meta-analytic review of emotion recognition and aging: Implications for neuropsychological models of aging

Ted Ruffman, Julie D. Henry, Vicki Livingstone, Louise H. Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature review

609 Citations (Scopus)


This meta-analysis of 28 data sets (N = 705 older adults, N = 962 younger adults) examined age differences in emotion recognition across four modalities: faces, voices, bodies/contexts, and matching of faces to voices. The results indicate that older adults have increased difficulty recognising at least some of the basic emotions (anger, sadness, fear, disgust, surprise, happiness) in each modality, with some emotions (anger and sadness) and some modalities (face voice matching) creating particular difficulties. The predominant pattern across all emotions and modalities was of age-related decline with the exception that there was a trend for older adults to be better than young adults at recognising disgusted facial expressions. These age-related changes are examined in the context of three theoretical perspectives-positivity effects, general cognitive decline, and more specific neuropsychological change in the social brain. We argue that the pattern of age-related change observed is most consistent with a neuropsychological model of adult aging stemming from changes in frontal and temporal volume, and/or changes in neurotransmitters. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)863-881
Number of pages19
JournalNeuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • emotion recognition
  • aging
  • neuropsychology
  • amygdala
  • orbitofrontal cortex
  • cingulate cortex
  • frontal lobe
  • temporal lobe
  • neurotransmitters
  • general cognitive decline
  • adult lifespan
  • age related differences
  • facial expression recognition
  • verbal fluency performance
  • bilateral amygdala damage
  • human brain
  • neural responses
  • older adults
  • gray matter


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