Do we grow emotionally wiser as we grow physically older? Not necessarily, according to a recent study that looked at how age affects one’s ability to recognize other people’s emotions.

Participants ranging in age from 18 to 85 were given simple sentences and pictures of faces, then were asked to identify what emotion was being conveyed by each of them. Previous studies have shown that recognizing other people’s emotions is critical for empathizing with them and maintaining healthy relationships. It allows us to steer clear of conflict and provide support to others.

The results of this study, published earlier this year in the journal Psychology and Aging, show that adults over 60 had significantly more trouble identifying some emotions than did those under 40. In the language task, the older adults had a harder time identifying anger, disgust, happiness, sadness, and surprise. They also did worse at recognizing fear in the faces.

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These findings suggest that older adults might not have the same quality of relationships as their younger counterparts, and could be more prone to misunderstandings and confrontations.

But the researchers note that this might not actually be the case, as seniors can still pick up on emotional cues other than the ones tested in this study. For example, the researchers point out that voice intonation, in addition to words and facial expressions, plays an important role in conveying emotion through speech.

The authors write that future research can build on this study by looking more closely at how their findings translate into the everyday lives of seniors.

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