Publication Date

Spring 2019

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Andrew Mienaltowski (Director), Sharon A. Mutter, and Matthew C. Shake

Degree Program

Department of Psychological Sciences

Degree Type

Master of Science


This study examined how younger and older adults differ in their ability to discriminate between pairs of emotions of varying degrees of similarity when presented with an averted or direct gaze in either a neutral, congruent, or incongruent emotional context. For Task 1, participants were presented with three blocks of emotion pairs (i.e., anger/disgust, sadness/disgust, and fear/disgust) and were asked to indicate which emotion was being expressed. The actors’ gaze direction was manipulated such that emotional facial expressions were depicted with a direct gaze or an averted gaze. For Task 2, the same stimuli were placed into emotional contexts (e.g., evocative backgrounds and expressive body posture) that were either congruent or incongruent with the emotional facial expression. Participants made emotion discrimination judgments for two emotion pairings: anger/disgust (High Similarity condition) and fear/disgust (Low Similarity condition). Discrimination performance varied as a function of age, gaze direction, degree of similarity of emotion pairs, and the congruence of the context. Across task, performance was best when evaluating less similar emotion pairs and worst when evaluating more similar emotion pairs. In addition, evaluating emotion in stimuli with averted eye gaze generally led to poorer performance than when evaluating stimuli communicating emotion with a direct eye gaze. These outcomes held for both age groups. When participants observed emotion facial expressions in the presence of congruent or incongruent emotional contexts, age differences in discrimination performance were most pronounced when the context did not support one’s estimation of the emotion expressed by the actors.


Cognition and Perception | Cognitive Psychology | Developmental Psychology | Social Psychology