Research indicates that emotion can affect updating in working memory. However, it is less clear how emotion influences updating when it is either task-relevant or irrelevant and how this emotion-cognition interaction changes with age. This study investigated whether the influence of emotion on updating depends on task relevance of emotion and on age. Twenty-five younger (20 – 34 years of age) and 25 older adults (63 – 80 years of age) performed a 0-back, 1-back, and 2-back task, in which they responded to younger, middle-aged, and older faces showing neutral, happy or angry expressions. Task relevance of emotion was manipulated through instructions to make match/non-match judgments based on the emotion (i.e., emotion was task-relevant) or on the age (i.e., emotion was task-irrelevant) of the face. Facilitating effects of emotion were observed when it was task-relevant as all participants responded more accurately and faster to happy faces. However, only older adults were also faster in making non-match responses to happy and angry faces compared to neutral faces. Task-irrelevant emotion impaired discrimination accuracy and reaction times, with no age-related differences. These findings suggest that emotion can have both impairing and facilitating effects on updating, depending on its task relevance. Crucially, it appears that older adults can benefit from emotional information that is task-relevant more than younger adults
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