Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Clancy Dollinger, Stephanie


As people age, they attend to and recall positive stimuli at a higher frequency than stimuli that is negative in valence. This `positivity effect' of older adults has been repeatedly demonstrated in the fields of human attention and memory. Studies have yet to examine the positivity effect within the realm of attentional inhibition, which was the focus of the current study. In the current study, both young and older adults were shown emotional images. These images varied in valence (negative, neutral, positive) and were superimposed with emotional words (also varying in valence). In the Adaptive condition of the study, participants were instructed to respond (via key-press) only to the images while ignoring the words. In the Nonadaptive condition, participants were instructed to respond (via key-press) to both the image and the word, which required them to simultaneously attend to both sets of stimuli. At the conclusion of each condition, all participants were given an implicit memory measure (Remote Associates Task) and a word-stem task to assess if they effectively inhibited the word stimuli. An independent t-test revealed a significant effect of age on average amount of RAT solutions, where young participants provided significantly fewer RAT solutions than older participants. Mixed-effects ANOVA revealed a significant effect of valence by condition on number of correct RAT solutions, with significantly more negative RAT solutions provided in the Adaptive condition relative to the Nonadaptive condition. These results suggest that valence of stimuli and condition instructions may influence distraction in both young and older adults.




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