How do we process emotions differently as we age?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Hall of Human Life

    Development doesn’t stop when you become an adult; you continue to grow and change across your entire lifespan. Research has shown that one way adults continue to change is in how they think about and deal with their emotions and how they think about the emotions of others.

    It is important for us to be able to tell how other people are feeling when we are interacting with them. Some people regularly express their emotions through their facial expressions, but others may be harder to read. The ways people express their emotions may change with age – they may become more expressive or feel more reserved or they may have accumulated laugh lines from years of smiling. The way they read emotions on other people’s faces may change as well.

    In our studies, adults (age 18 or older) will be asked to do short activities about emotions. For example, we may ask people to watch videos, look at pictures of faces expressing emotion, or write about emotional experiences. We may also ask questions about how good people think they are at guessing other people’s feelings. People will also be asked to occasionally rate their mood.

    We are interested in whether people’s ability to read other people’s emotions is related to their own mood and if this ability changes as they age.

    The results of these studies will help us better understand how adults are able to relate to each other and what factors may help or hinder them in when doing so.

    Derek Isaacowitz and the Lifespan Emotion Development Lab

        » Lifespan Emotion Development Lab

    Activities to Try in the Hall of Human Life

    Do You Ever Forget a Face?

    Find the “Do you ever forget a face?” link station in the Communities environment. The people whose pictures were taken for this activity were asked to have a neutral facial expression. Do you think remembering faces would be easier or harder if the faces were expressing different emotions? Do you think different facial expressions of emotions impact your ability to remember a person’s face differently?

    Activities to Try at Home

    People Watching

    Think back to your visit to the Museum. Many of our visitors look to other people for cues for where to go next. If people look excited about an activity other people will tend to congregate around it and if people look confused or bored few people will stop by. Do you remember doing this at all? How could you tell how other people were feeling?

    Next time you’re out in public, look around to see if you can figure out how people are feeling. Are some people easier to read than others? What situations make people easier or harder to read?

Research Spotlight

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