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Strengths of the Study

Describe about study of cognition and emotion based on the journal “Age differences in memory for arousing and non-arousing emotional words”.

Even as adults age, though there are many cognitive declines, the information with affective meaning conveyed to memory by socio-emotional processing are preserved. Older adults, on par with the younger counterparts are fast to detect emotional information and are most likely to remember affective and self-relevant information compared to other types of neutral details. The age-related change termed “positivity effect” in emotional memory has been observed where in older adults tend to remember positive non-arousing emotional words more when compared to younger adults who tend to remember the negative words more. However, an interesting observation made in this study by Elizabeth A. Kensinger demonstrates that the “positivity effect” was not observed with arousing emotional words where the older adults remembered both positive and negative words well enough. The findings of the study concluded that while aging preserves processing of arousing information, the non-arousing information processing is altered.

The study also allows careful selection of individuals, community or a population to ensure that the study results would represent the population studied. That is, the experiments with the selected participants can be generalized to the population about which the information is being analyzed. Here, the participants selected for the two experiments were different and young and older adults were selected after screening for medications that could affect CNS and exclude people with history of alcoholism, drug abuse or any other psychological or neurological disorders. Assessing the validity of the findings for accuracy is made easy through these processes.

Generalizing of the results based on one experiment is not possible and does not yield accurate results. It was another important strength of the study that it made replication possible and two experiments were conducted. One of the weaknesses of the first experiment was that during the experiment, the participants were aware of the fact that their memory was going to be tested using a free call text after they have studied the words where in many participants tried to memorize the words. This provides with a liability where in the participants could have been influenced by the knowledge that they were going to be tested. But in the second experiment conducted the participants did not know that a recognition memory task would be conducted later. The results in this experiment replicated that of the first. The quantitative data obtained as a result of the study makes analysis through inferential statistical tests possible.

Weaknesses of the Study

A weakness in this study could be the fact that the type of memory task and encoding intentions between the two experiments were changed. That is, the first experiment used recall test and the second used recognition memory task. In this case it becomes difficult to determine whether there was some kind of interaction between the two variables. Also, the possibility that intentionality could have played a role in the first experiment’s recall task and the possibility of the same being reversed for recognition tasks comparatively should be considered. Another weakness of the study is the fact that the enhancement for arousing items is supported by processing that is preserved with age but for complete elucidation of these processes further studies will be required. For instance, this study doesn’t take into account the findings of the socio emotional selectivity theory according to which the age-related positivity effect found in older adults may be a result of older adult’s greater motivation to process emotional information. Perceptions of time are a key element in human motivation and while the study has taken into account the chronological age of the participants, the time limit perception has not been taken into account questioning the accuracy of the results. Emphasizing the memory nature of the tests could have an impact on the performance of participants.

The findings were concluded based on two experiments conducted. A key strength of the study includes the fact that it provided the researchers with a better and stronger control over the variables considered. The purpose of this study is to enable the experimenter to isolate one key variable selected, the independent variable in this case are the words to observe its effects on another variable, the dependant variable which in case is the effect on memory. Here seventy five words from five categories including neutral words, positive and negative non-arousing words and positive and negative arousing words were chosen from Affective norms of English Words (ANEW) and the experimenters had complete control over the word selection. The selection of words was based on similar valence ratios, word lengths, image ability and frequency. This kind of study makes establishing a cause – effect relationship between the chosen variables and determines whether or not it is the independent variable that is influencing the dependent variable.

There are a number of studies that reveal that with aging the negativity effect decreases and the positivity effect increases or remain stable over the course of adult life (Carstensen and Mikel, 2005). Among older adults, the enhanced sense of well-being on a daily basis could be a reason for this positivity effect. As demonstrated by these studies and their employment of cross-sectional methods of analysis, it is likely that this emotional well-being may be a characteristic of older adults rather than a result of aging. The successful maintenance of positive effect by older adults may be related to time perspective changes and a greater robustness in processing emotional information (Charles, Reynolds and Gatz, 2001). A rationale for a follow up study is whether the age-related bias in an individual can be altered by his/her perspective in a particular task and whether the perceptive that an individual takes can impact the memory processing at the implicit memory level compared to explicit and conscious memories.

Rationale and Description of the Follow-up Study

The foundation for evaluating this trajectory is based on the socio emotional selectivity theory.  According to the theory when people have no perception of time and view their tie available as unconstrained are less likely to regulate their emotions, such as the younger adults. The theory focuses on the basis that emotional goals increase with aging and states that as people become older there is a shift in their cognitive framework in which they tend to avoid the negative content more pronouncedly (Hoyle & Sherill, 2006). It has also been demonstrated through studies that when changing perceptions are considered, younger adults can show positivity effect when their time is limited. For instance, younger adults with life threatening illnesses have demonstrated positivity effect (Fung, Lai and Ng, 2001). From the perspective of time, the emotional processing in this case is altered with relation to age whatsoever. Also, encouraging younger adults to focus on certain emotional states has also been found to influence positivity effect in them (Lockenhoff & Carstensen, 2007).  

Studies demonstrate that older adults have increased focus on active emotional regulation comparatively (Magai et al, 2006; Lawton et al, 1992). That is, older people are more effective at down regulating moods and restoring the positivity after experiencing a negative mood onset (Kliegel, Jager and Philips, 2007). Also, cognitive processing must be accounted for when considering age-related studies. Emotions and cognitions are closely related and a person’s cognitive quality can impact the way he/she remembers information (Ochsner and Gross, 2005). Therefore, positivity effect can be defined as an interaction between age and valence such that an older adult’s memory and memory processing time is devoted to negative stimuli in a much smaller proportion compared to large positive stimuli processing and the scenario is vice versa with younger adults (Mather, 2006).

This age by valence interactions are found frequently in memory studies and according to some recent studies, the older adult’s memory preference for positivity is specific is specific to the memory of the words themselves and does not extend to the associated contextual details of the positive stimuli (Kensinger et al, 2007). Therefore, the positivity effect is valid only when the memory abilities of younger and older adults are compared and this must not be confused with positive bias (Langeslag and Van Strien, 2009). The positivity effect thus obtained through these experiments could be result of motivational shift in processing of emotional words (Lockenhoff and Carstensen, 2004). Apart from these changes and the neurological effects, stereotyping regarding aging could also be a factor in impacting the cognitive performance in aged people (Hess et al, 2003).

From the previous study, there have three patterns observed. First, young and older adults show no bias in remembering arousing words (positive or negative). Second, younger adults remember negative non-arousing words more. Third, older adults show a positivity effect as they remember positive non-arousing words more. However, recent studies have demonstrated that the memory performance decreased overall in recall and recognition tests when participants were primed with negative information. But the study however does not account for the intentional forgetting of emotional words, a process that is quite critical to efficient memory processing (Gallant and Yang, 2014). Also, the present study employed words with no variance in their valence.

A person’s forgetting behavior is just as important as his ability to remember. Intentional forgetting benefits memory by deleting information that is no longer required. A “directed forgetting” task is often used to study intentional forgetting (MacLeod, 1998). In an experiment conducted with thirty six younger and older adults each, an item-based directed forgetting task with a series of arousal-equivalent words that differed in valence, a recognition task were conducted. Each word in the list was followed by a cue to either remember it or forget it and a subsequent tagging recognition test was conducted to classify items as to-be-remembered or to-be-forgotten. While the valence of the words had no effect on the selective forgetting of the words by younger or older adults, in the performance of older adults, a goal consistent valence effect was noticed. Older adults tended to assign to be remembered cues to more positive words and listed negative words as to be forgotten. This demonstrated the role of socio emotional selectivity theory and emotion and directed forgetting underlie the age-related positivity effect (Gallant and Yang, 2014).

The present study has tested the memory abilities of two groups but failed to consider the effect of age and valence on intentional forgetting. According to Gallant and Yang’s study it is possible that both the age groups can intentionally forget words from each category and the tagging of words to be remembered or forgotten is affected by valence and the impact is different for younger and older age groups. This study result could be an extension on existing literature on age differences in memory for emotional words.  Also, the present study used words as the emotional stimuli. Arousal plays differential roles in remembering or forgetting based on the emotional stimuli used. Hence, it is not clear if the results obtained with images as emotional stimuli would replicate those obtained with the use of words. By combining the two studies it can be determined whether the positivity effect would also be effective in situations where forgetting might be more favorable.

Also, consistent emotional processing based on perspectives have been demonstrated across age groups. While in a standard test younger adults show negativity effect and the older adults show positivity effect when the perspective orientation was changed, the two groups tended to differ in the effects. Opposing perspective based shifts were noticed in the processing of emotion and they took characteristics of the other group. From these results, it is clear that there is an extensive impact of perspective on memory processing that has less to do with a person’s chronological age and more to do with the ideologies of a person about his/her life, the opinions which may be inferred personally or through cultural expectations which are likely to impact the memory and cognition. Therefore, in our follow up study we can also take into account the participants perspectives and grouping can be done considering it as an important factor.

References

  1. Carstensen, L. and Mikels, J. (2005). At the Intersection of Emotion and Cognition. Aging and the Positivity Effect. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(3), pp.117-121.
  2. Charles, S., Reynolds, C. and Gatz, M. (2001). Age-related differences and change in positive and negative affect over 23 years. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80(1), pp.136-151.
  3. Chung, C. (2010). Effects of View of Life and Selection Bias on Emotional Memory in Old Age. GeroPsych: The Journal of Geronto psychology and Geriatric Psychiatry, 23(3), pp.161-168.
  4. Fung, H., Lai, P. and Ng, R. (2001). Age differences in social preferences among Taiwanese and mainland Chinese: The role of perceived time. Psychology and Aging, 16(2), pp.351-356.
  5. Gallant, S. and Yang, L. (2014). Positivity effect in source attributions of arousal-matched emotional and non-emotional words during item-based directed forgetting. Frontiers in Psychology, 5.
  6. Hess, T., Auman, C., Colcombe, S. and Rahhal, T. (2003). The Impact of Stereotype Threat on Age Differences in Memory Performance. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 58(1), pp.P3-P11.
  7. Hoyle, R. and Sherrill, M. (2006). Future Orientation in the Self-System: Possible Selves, Self-Regulation, and Behavior. Journal of Personality, 74(6), pp.1673-1696.
  8. Kensinger, E. (2008). Age Differences in Memory for Arousing and Nonarousing Emotional Words. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 63(1), pp.P13-P18.
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