The researches find that the older adults are less distracted by negative information  even in the earliest stages of attention. USC researchers looked at “emotion-induced blindness,” which refers to distractions caused by emotionally arousing stimuli. In four experiments using a quickly presented sequence of images, they examined how older adults prioritize emotional information. They found both younger and older adults demonstrated emotion-induced blindness; but older adults were more distracted by positive information and less distracted by negative information.

The older adults are less distracted

The results are publish today in Emotion. What makes our new findings striking is that we find evidence of the positivity effect at such an early, attentional level. Therefore Older and younger adults ;were distracted differently by the same negative images that appeared for only a fraction of a second. Older adults seem to view their world with a filter that cares less about negative information than younger adults  to the point that, without even having time to think about and reflect on what they are seeing, they give less attention to it.”

Lead author Briana Kennedy, postdoctoral scholar in the Emotion & Cognition Lab; USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology Studies have shown that compared with younger adults, older adults tend to favor positive information more than negative information in their attention and memory. What has remained unclear about this long-observed “positivity effect” is at which stage it impacts cognitive processing and its influence on processing other stimuli appearing around the same time.

Favor positive information

Participants in the USC study are shows a rapidly display series of landscape images and given the task ;to correctly identify the direction of one rotated picture. Those images were punctuated with irrelevant positive or negative images that appeared soon before the rotated picture. The positive images included babies; or happy couples while the negative; images included disturbing or threatening situations like a man approaching a woman with a knife.

Both older and younger were less accurate in identifying the rotated landscape image after these “emotional distractors.” However; compared to younger adults, older were less distracted by negative ;and more distracted by positive images, suggesting that a selective bias toward positive information occurs early in older adults’ visual processing.

“The exciting thing about this effect is how quickly the images are present it’s only hundreds of ;milliseconds that these images are on the screen;” Kennedy said. “This allowed us to measure the early levels of cognition and see how something that’s emotional can disrupt our perception and awareness of things that come after it.”