Emotional response inhibition is greater in older than younger adults

Jill D. Waring, Taylor R. Greif, Eric J. Lenze

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Emotional information rapidly captures our attention and also often invokes automatic response tendencies, whereby positive information motivates approach, while negative information encourages avoidance. However, many circumstances require the need to override or inhibit these automatic responses. Control over responses to emotional information remains largely intact in late life, in spite of age-related declines in cognitive control and inhibition of responses to non-emotional information. The goal of this behavioral study was to understand how the aging process influences emotional response inhibition for positive and negative information in older adults. We examined emotional response inhibition in 36 healthy older adults (ages 60-89) and 44 younger adults (ages 18-22) using an emotional Go/No-Go task presenting happy (positive), fearful (negative), and neutral faces. In both younger and older adults, happy faces produced more approach-related behavior (i.e., fewer misses), while fearful faces produced more avoidance-related behavior, in keeping with theories of approach/avoidance-motivated responses. Calculation of speed/accuracy trade-offs between response times and false alarm rates revealed that younger and older adults both favored speed at the expense of accuracy, most robustly within blocks with fearful faces. However, there was no indication that the strength of the speed/accuracy trade-off differed between younger and older adults. Although younger adults were faster to respond to all types of faces, older adults had greater emotional response inhibition (i.e., fewer false alarms). This is the first study to directly test effects of aging on emotional response inhibition. Complementing previous literature in the domains of attention and memory, these results provide new evidence that in the domain of response inhibition older adults may more effectively employ emotion regulatory ability, albeit on a slower time course, compared to younger adults. The present study extends the literature of emotional response inhibition in younger adulthood into late life, and in doing so further elucidates how cognitive aging interacts with affective control processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number961
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberAPR
StatePublished - 2019


  • Aging
  • Emotion
  • Emotion Regulation
  • Executive Function
  • Facial expressions
  • Go/No Go
  • Older adult
  • Response inhibition


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