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Memory. 2011 Apr;19(3):305-13. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2011.561803.

The effect of emotion-focused orientation at retrieval on emotional memory in young and older adults.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.


This study examines how emotion-focused orientation at retrieval affects memory for emotional versus neutral images in young and older adults. A total of 44 older adults (ages 61-84 years, M=70.00, SD=5.54) and 43 young adults (ages 17-33 years, M=20.58, SD=3.72) were tested on their free recall and forced-choice recognition of images. At retrieval the emotion-focused orientation was manipulated by instructing participants to focus on emotion-related information (i.e., emotional content of images and the emotional reactions evoked by the images). In the control conditions participants were either instructed to focus on visual information or not provided any specific orientation instruction. In free recall but not forced-choice recognition, the emotion-focused orientation increased young adults' positivity bias and thus wiped out their superior negativity bias. However, the emotion-focused orientation did not affect older adults' emotional memory. The data suggest that young adults activate and prioritise emotional goals in response to external demand during intentional information processing whereas older adults seem to spontaneously tune themselves to emotional goals.

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