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The effect of age on emotion processing in individuals with mood disorders and in healthy individuals

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Peter GallagherORCiD, Dr Richard Porter



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Copyright © 2024 Gray, Moot, Frampton, Douglas, Gallagher, Jordan, Carter, Inder, Crowe, McIntosh and Porter. Introduction: Emotion processing is an essential part of interpersonal relationships and social interactions. Changes in emotion processing have been found in both mood disorders and in aging, however, the interaction between such factors has yet to be examined in detail. This is of interest due to the contrary nature of the changes observed in existing research - a negativity bias in mood disorders versus a positivity effect with aging. It is also unclear how changes in non-emotional cognitive function with aging and in mood disorders, interact with these biases. Methods and results: In individuals with mood disorders and in healthy control participants, we examined emotional processing and its relationship to age in detail. Data sets from two studies examining facial expression recognition were pooled. In one study, 98 currently depressed individuals (either unipolar or bipolar) were compared with 61 healthy control participants, and in the other, 100 people with bipolar disorder (in various mood states) were tested on the same facial expression recognition task. Repeated measures analysis of variance was used to examine the effects of age and mood disorder diagnosis alongside interactions between individual emotion, age, and mood disorder diagnosis. A positivity effect was associated with increasing age which was evident irrespective of the presence of mood disorder or current mood episode. Discussion: Results suggest a positivity effect occurring at a relatively early age but with no evidence of a bias toward negative emotions in mood disorder or specifically, in depressed episodes. The positivity effect in emotional processing in aging appears to occur even within people with mood disorders. Further research is needed to understand how this fits with negative biases seen in previous studies in mood disorders.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Gray V, Moot W, Frampton CMA, Douglas KM, Gallagher P, Jordan J, Carter JD, Inder M, Crowe M, McIntosh VVW, Porter RJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Frontiers in Psychology

Year: 2024

Volume: 15

Online publication date: 26/01/2024

Acceptance date: 09/01/2024

Date deposited: 20/02/2024

ISSN (electronic): 1664-1078

Publisher: Frontiers Media SA


DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2024.1204204


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Funder referenceFunder name
Gama Fellowship
Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC)
Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship
University of Otago