Adult age differences in using information from the eyes and mouth to make decisions about others' emotions

Gillian Slessor, Pauline Insch, Vestina Sciaponaite, Malgorzata Adamowicz, Louise H Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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OBJECTIVES: Older adults are often less accurate than younger counterparts at identifying emotions such as anger, sadness and fear from faces. They also look less at the eyes and more at the mouth during emotion perception. The current studies advance understanding of the nature of these age effects on emotional processing.

METHOD: Younger and older participants identified emotions from pictures of eyes or mouths (Experiment 1) and incongruent mouth-eyes emotion combinations (Experiment 2). In Experiment 3 participants categorised emotions from pictures in which face masks covered the mouth region.

RESULTS: Older adults were worse than young at identifying anger and sadness from eyes, but better at identifying the same emotions from the mouth region (Experiment 1) and they were more likely than young to use information from the mouth to classify anger, fear and disgust (Experiment 2). In Experiment 3 facemasks impaired perception of anger, sadness and fear more for older compared to younger adults.

DISCUSSION: These studies indicate that older people are more able than young to interpret emotional information from the mouth, they are more biased to use information from the mouth, and suffer more difficulty in emotion perception when the mouth is covered with a facemask. This has implications for social communication in different age groups.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbergbac097
Pages (from-to)2241-2251
Number of pages10
JournalJournals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number12
Early online date10 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

We would like to acknowledge the assistance of Christina Pomareda and Auste Simkute with data collection.

This research was supported by grants from the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ES/P005330/1), and from the Lily Charlton Trust.

Data Availability Statement

Data, analytic methods, and study materials from Experiment 3 will be made available to other researchers. To request access to these, please e-mail The study materials used in Experiment 1 and 2 are subject to copyright and therefore we cannot share these. The experiments in this manuscript were not preregistered.


  • aging
  • emotion perception
  • social cognition
  • social interaction


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