Previous research suggests declines in emotion perception in older as compared to younger adults, but the underlying neural mechanisms remain unclear. Here, we address this by investigating how “face-age” and “face emotion intensity” affect both younger and older participants’ behavioural and neural responses using event-related potentials (ERPs). Sixteen young and fifteen older adults viewed and judged the emotion type of facial images with old or young face-age and with high- or low- emotion intensities while EEG was recorded. The ERP results revealed that young and older participants exhibited significant ERP differences in two neural clusters: the left frontal and centromedial regions (100–200 ms stimulus onset) and frontal region (250–900 ms) when perceiving neutral faces. Older participants also exhibited significantly higher ERPs within these two neural clusters during anger and happiness emotion perceptual tasks. However, while this pattern of activity supported neutral emotion processing, it was not sufficient to support the effective processing of facial expressions of anger and happiness as older adults showed reductions in performance when perceiving these emotions. These age-related changes are consistent with theoretical models of age-related changes in neurocognitive abilities and may reflect a general age-related cognitive neural compensation in older adults, rather than a specific emotion-processing neural compensation.
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