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Compared with younger adults, older adults tend to favor positive information more than negative information in their attention and memory. This “positivity effect” has been observed in various paradigms, but at which stage it impacts cognitive processing and how it influences processing other stimuli appearing around the same time remains unclear. Across four experiments, we examined how older adults prioritize emotional information in early attention. Both younger and older adults demonstrated emotion-induced blindness – identifying targets in a rapid serial display of pictures with less accuracy after emotional compared to neutral distractors – but older adults demonstrated a positivity bias at this early attentional level. Moreover, the bias toward positive but not negative information in older adults was reduced when they had a working memory load. These results suggest that a selective bias toward positive, but not negative, information occurs early in visual processing, and the bias relies on cognitive control resources.
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