Positive information facilitates response inhibition in older adults only when emotion is task-relevant

Samantha E. Williams, Eric J. Lenze, Jill D. Waring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Emotional information is integral to everyday life and impacts a variety of cognitive abilities including response inhibition, a critical skill for maintaining appropriate and flexible behaviour. However, reported effects of emotion on response inhibition are inconsistent in younger adults, and very limited in older adults. Effects of aging are especially relevant because emotion regulation improves with aging despite declining inhibitory control over neutral information. Across three studies, we assessed the impact of emotional facial expressions on response inhibition in younger and older adults while manipulating attention to task stimuli. Emotional faces (versus neutral faces) altered response inhibition only when task instructions required explicit attention to emotional attributes of the faces. When directly comparing fear faces to happy faces, both age groups had better response inhibition to happy faces. Age further influenced differences across conditions, in that happy faces enhanced response inhibition relative to neutral faces in older adults but not younger adults. Thus, emotional response inhibition for task-relevant (but not task-irrelevant) positive information is enhanced in late life compared to early adulthood. The present work extends the nascent literature on emotional response inhibition in aging, and proffers a framework to reconcile the mixed literature on this topic in younger adults.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1632-1645
Number of pages14
JournalCognition and Emotion
StatePublished - 2020


  • Emotion
  • aging
  • executive function
  • response inhibition
  • stop-signal task


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