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Title: Age-related changes in decoding basic social cues from the eyes
Author: Slessor, Gillian
ISNI:       0000 0004 2682 3531
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2009
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This thesis explores age differences in the ability to decode basic social cues from the face and, in particular, the eye region. Age-related declines in complex aspects of social perception, such as forced choice labelling of emotional expressions and theory of mind reasoning, are well documented.  However, research, to date, has not assessed age differences in more basic aspects of social perception such as eye-gaze detection, joint attention, or more implicit responses to emotional cues.  The first two experimental chapters of this thesis report a series of studies investigating age-related changes in gaze processing.  Both the ability to detect subtle differences in gaze direction and to subsequently follow the gaze cues given by others was found to decline with age. Age-related changes were also found in the integration of gaze direction with emotional (angry, joyful and disgusted) facial expressions, when making emotion perception and approachability judgements (Chapters 4 and 5).  Age differences in responses to happy facial expressions are further investigated in Chapter 6 by assessing sensitivity to discriminate between enjoyment and non-enjoyment smiles.  Findings indicated that older adults demonstrated a greater bias towards thinking that any smiling individual was feeling happy.  They were also more likely than younger participants to choose to approach an individual displaying a non-enjoyment smile.  The final experimental chapter explores whether the age of the face influences age-related changes in gaze following.  Age-related declines in gaze following were greatest when following the gaze cues of younger (vs. older) adults, highlighting the importance of closely matching age of stimulus and participant when investigating age differences in social perception.  Perceptual, neuropsychological and motivational explanations for these results are evaluated and implications of these research findings for older adults’ social functioning are discussed.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Interpersonal communication ; Facial expression ; Social interaction ; Social perception ; Age Factors