Effects of aging on identifying emotions conveyed by point-light walkers

Justine M. Y. Spencer, Allison B. Sekuler, Patrick J. Bennett, Martin A. Giese, Karin S. Pilz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


The visual system is able to recognize human motion simply from point lights attached to the major joints of an actor. Moreover, it has been shown that younger adults are able to recognize emotions from such dynamic point-light displays. Previous research has suggested that the ability to perceive emotional stimuli changes with age. For example, it has been shown that older adults are impaired in recognizing emotional expressions from static faces. In addition, it has been shown that older adults have difficulties perceiving visual motion, which might be helpful to recognize emotions from point-light displays. In the current study, 4 experiments were completed in which older and younger adults were asked to identify 3 emotions (happy, sad, and angry) displayed by 4 types of point-light walkers: upright and inverted normal walkers, which contained both local motion and global form information; upright scrambled walkers, which contained only local motion information; and upright random-position walkers, which contained only global form information. Overall, emotion discrimination accuracy was lower in older participants compared with younger participants, specifically when identifying sad and angry point-light walkers. In addition, observers in both age groups were able to recognize emotions from all types of point-light walkers, suggesting that both older and younger adults are able to recognize emotions from point-light walkers on the basis of local motion or global form.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-138
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology and Aging
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016

Bibliographical note

M.G. was supported by EC FP7 HBP (grant 604102), PITN-GA-011-290011 (ABC) FP7-ICT-2013-10/ 611909 (KOROIBOT), and by GI 305/4-1 and KA 1258/15-1, and BMBF, FKZ: 01GQ1002A. K.S.P. was supported by a BBSRC New Investigator Grant. A.B.S. and P.J.B. were supported by an operating grant (528206) from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. The authors also thank Donna Waxman for her valuable help in data collection for all experiments described here.


  • aging
  • emotion discrimination
  • direction discrimination
  • point-light walkers
  • biological motion


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