The Impact of Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease on Decoding Emotion Cues from Bodily Motion

Pauline Margaret Insch, Gillian Slessor, Louise Helen Phillips, Anthony Atkinson, Jill Warrington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
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Both healthy aging and dementia cause problems with emotion perception, and the impairment is generally greater for specific emotions (anger, sadness and fear). Most studies to date have focused on static facial photographs of emotions. The current study investigated the effects of healthy aging and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) on the ability to decode emotions from bodily motion
displayed by point light stimuli. Response biases were controlled to investigate whether these influenced the specificity of impairment in perceiving individual emotions. Study 1 compared healthy young and older adults, and Study 2 people with AD and age-matched controls, on an emotion perception task using point light stimuli. Accuracy and the pattern of errors were investigated. Specific age-related impairments were found in labeling sadness, anger and fear from
point light displays. Response biases were also found, and controlling for these biases indicated that older adults were worse at labeling all emotions. People with AD were less accurate than healthy older controls at labeling fear, anger and sadness. After controlling for response biases, AD caused impairment in perceiving all emotions. These results indicate a general age-related impairment in decoding emotions from bodily motion, and a further impairment in this skill in AD. Apparent specificity of deficits in emotion labeling tasks needs to be interpreted cautiously, and correction for response bias should be considered. Problems perceiving emotion cues from biological motion might impair social interaction in older adults, particularly those with dementia
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-152
Number of pages14
JournalAIMS Neuroscience
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by a grant from the Lily Charlton Trust. The authors wish to acknowledge the support of the Older Adult Mental Health Directorate at Royal Cornhill Hospital, NHS Grampian, Alzheimer’s Scotland and the Scottish Dementia Clinical Research Network. We would also like to thank all the participants for their support in taking part. This project was completed as part of a doctoral dissertation by P. M. Insch.


  • older adults
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • dementia
  • emotions
  • social perception
  • biological motion
  • motion perception
  • response bias


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