Friend or foe? Decoding the facilitative and disruptive effects of emotion on working memory in younger and older adults
Frontiers Media SA -- Frontiers in Psychology
DOI 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00094
  1. aging
  2. emotions
  3. working memory
  4. goal relevance
  5. distraction
  6. interference resolution

A growing body of work on emotion-cognition interactions has revealed both facilitative and disruptive effects of emotion on working memory in younger adults. These differing effects may vary by the goal relevancy of emotion within a task. Additionally, it is possible that these emotional effects would be larger for older adults, considering findings of preserved emotional processing with age. To test these hypotheses, the current study examined the effects of emotional content and aging on working memory for target information in the presence of distraction. Thirty-six younger (ages 18–29) and 36 older adults (ages 65–87) completed a delayed-response working memory task. Participants viewed two target words intermixed with two distracter words, and then judged whether a subsequently presented probe word was one of the target words. The emotional content (valence and arousal) of targets and distracters was systematically manipulated. Results indicated that emotional targets facilitated working memory in both age groups. In contrast, emotional distracters disrupted performance. Negative distracters were particularly disruptive for older adults, but younger adults did not show an emotional interference effect. These findings help clarify discrepancies in the literature and contribute to the sparse research on emotional working memory in older adults.