In the 20th century, many psychologists from the perspective of "doom and suffering"studied the physical, cognitive and emotional losses of people in their later years.However, recent theoretical and empirical researches have challenged this generally acknowledged "truth" from the perspective of "aging paradox”一the positive effect of the elderly in emotional processing. In the fields of social emotional aging and emotion and cognition, researchers put forward a series of theoretical explanations such as socioemotional selectivity theory (SST), the selection, optimization, and compensation with emotion regulation model (SOC-ER), strength and vulnerability integration (SAVn, dynamic integration theory (DTT) and the aging brain model (ABM). These theories, without exception, emphasized the potential role of cognitive control in the positive emotional process of older adults. However, the distinction between automatic and controlled cognitive process depended on the allocation of attentional resources.Therefore, this study intended to explore the role of cognitive control in the positive emotion process of the elderly, in related with attention.
However, cognitive control is not a single agent, but rather involves a variety of inhibition controls in the advanced cognitive processes. Diamond believes that inhibition control includes both behavioral and cognitive components. The former involves response inhibition and the latter mainly refers to conflict control. At present,there is still a lack of theoretical and empirical research to clearly describe when and how the various sub-components of cognitive control impact positive effect. According to the structure of inhibition control put forward by Diamond，this study aimed to use techniques including behavioral, ERP and eye tracking methods to explore the effect of cognitive control on the positive effect of emotional attention processing among the elderly, with three studies, four experiments:
The first study is a baseline experiment, comparing the age difference of attention bias of different facial expression with ERP technology using classic dot probe paradigm in order to clarify the conditions of the positive effect in the emotional attention of the elderly. In the second one, we use go/no-go variants of dot probe by ERP technology to investigate the impact of behavioral inhibition on the emotional attention processing of the elderly. In the third one, the effect of conflict control on the emotional attention of the elderly was explored using eye movement technique,including experiment 3 and experiment 4. In the third experiment, we use the spatial cues paradigm by eye-movement technology to explore the role of conflict control in the emotional context. In the fourth experiment, we use the emotional stroop paradigm by eye-movement technology to explore the function of direct "emotional" conflicts.This article intends to summarize the attention phase model which clarify the role of cognitive control on the positive effects of the elderly. Results of experiments were as follows.
The experiment 1 showed that N2pc amplitude induced by positive emotions in the older group was significantly higher than that of younger group. This indicated that the positive effect of the elderly occurred in the controlled-process stage, which depended on cognitive control.
(1)The experiment 2 showed that the peak amplitude of N170 induced by fear was higher by happy among the elderly, and age-related difference was found. This suggested that when cognitive resources were occupied by the tasks which involved with executive inhibition, the elderly processed the threaten information automatically .Meanwhile, the positive effect disappeared. In addition, we found that hemispheric asymmetrily reducted in older adults.
(2) The experiment 3 revealed that in the face identification stage, under the high attention of emotional face conditions, the elderly can effectively control the conflict between the emotional and non-emotional stimulation. Thus, they showed attentional preferences toward happy faces, while younger adults toward fear faces. These results demonstated that when cognitive resources are sufficient, the elderly showed positive effect in attention orientation and maintenance stage of emotional face. In the disengagement stage, the elderly suppressed the interference of fear faces more difficultly. Thus, the positive effect did not shown in this experiment.
(3) The experiment 4 showed that the elderly are motivated to pay more attention to positive relative to negative stimuli, displaying a positive effect under the context of direct emotional conflict.
To sum up the above results, the current study concluded that the elderly in China did have positive effect in the processing of emotional attention, and this effect occurred in the control processing stage. Contrary to the two-route model of Foster (2013), when the cognitive resources of the elderly were occupied, they tended to pay attention to the threaten information in early process. When cognitive resources were sufficient, the older adults showed positive effect in the orientation and maintenance phase of attention,whereas, they processed the negative information over the positive in the dissociation phase. Meanwhile, the young adults did not show a specific pattern of attentional bias.
This study not only enriched the existing social emotion theory of aging, but also provided a theoretical basis for the relevant departments to design cognitive skills training programs aimed to promote emotional well-being of the elderly.