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Article

Cultural Variance and Invariance of Age Differences in Social Cognition  

Li Chu, Yang Fang, Vivian Hiu-Ling Tsang, and Helene H. Fung

Cognitive processing of social and nonsocial information changes with age. These processes range from the ones that serve “mere” cognitive functions, such as recall strategies and reasoning, to those that serve functions that pertain to self-regulation and relating to others. However, aging and the development of social cognition unfold in different cultural contexts, which may assume distinct social norms and values. Thus, the resulting age-related differences in cognitive and social cognitive processes may differ across cultures. On the one hand, biological aging could render age-related differences in social cognition universal; on the other hand, culture may play a role in shaping some age-related differences. Indeed, many aspects of cognition and social cognition showed different age and culture interactions, and this makes the study of these phenomena more complex. Future aging research on social cognition should take cultural influences into consideration.

Article

Dynamic Integration Theory  

Manfred Diehl, Eden Griffin, and Allyson Brothers

Dynamic integration theory (DIT) describes emotion development across the lifespan, from childhood to old age. In doing so, DIT draws on a number of perspectives, such as equilibrium theories, theories of cognitive development, and theories of behavioral adaptation, and takes a strong cognitive-developmental view on emotion experience and emotion regulation. Two propositions are at the core of DIT. First, the development of emotion experience and emotion regulation proceeds from simple and automatic reactions to increasingly complex and integrated cognitive-affective structures (i.e., schemas). These cognitive-affective structures can be ordered in terms of increasing levels of cognitive complexity and integration, with integration referring to a person’s ability to acknowledge both positive and negative affect states and to tolerate and reconcile the contradictions and tensions that these states generate. Second, DIT also postulates that the efficiency with which cognitive-affective systems work is a result of the dynamic interplay between contextual variables and person-specific characteristics. Three key factors contribute to this dynamic interplay between person and context: (1) the strength of the affective arousal, (2) the person’s cognitive resources for dealing with different affect states, and (3) pre-existing trait-like dispositions and reaction tendencies that may either hinder or facilitate emotion regulation. Thus, a person’s emotion experience and emotion regulation in a given situation are the product of the dynamic interaction of these factors. Considerable empirical evidence supports the theoretical propositions of DIT, including findings speaking to changes in emotion experience and emotion regulation in later life when declines in cognitive functioning tend to become normative.

Article

Music Perception  

Marcus T. Pearce

Music perception covers all aspects of psychological and neural processing invoked while listening to music. In order to make sense of a musical stimulus, the perceptual system must infer an internal representation of the structure present in a piece of music, including the attributes of individual events (including pitch, timbre, loudness, and timing), groups of events (such as chords, voices, and phrases), and structural relationships between such groups, so that larger-scale aspects of musical form and thematic structure can be perceived. Such representations are stored in memory at timescales ranging from seconds for echoic memory to decades in the case of long-term memory for music, which consists of schematic knowledge of musical styles, veridical memory for particular familiar pieces of music, and episodic memory for music heard at a particular place and time. Stored representations of music allow the generation of top-down expectations for the attributes of forthcoming events while listening to music, which play a role in the perception of music as it unfolds dynamically in time and also the emotional and aesthetic experience of music. Music is a communicative medium conveying affective meaning from the composer and performer to the listener, via several psychological mechanisms and using a range of cues in the music, some of which are universal, others culture-specific. Individuals show behavioral and physiological effects of listening to music from birth onward and learn the syntactic structure of the musical styles to which they are exposed within their culture, shaping their music perception. Some individuals undertake explicit musical training, which can additionally shape their perception of music, sometimes in fundamental ways. Listening to music can impair performance on concurrent tasks involving working memory due to competing access for resources but can improve performance when listening takes place prior to the task due to its positive effect on affective state. Music is a universal human cultural phenomenon whose complexity requires the activation of a diverse range of perceptual and cognitive mechanisms, making it an interesting target for psychological and neuroscientific investigation.

Article

New Directions in Theories of Emotion and Aging  

Joseph A. Mikels and Nathaniel A. Young

The adult life span is characterized as a time of divergent trajectories. It is a time of compounding losses (such as physical, sensory, and cognitive declines) and is also a time of surprising growth (such as improvements in well-being and emotion regulation). These divergent trajectories present theorists with the paradox of aging: in the face of accumulating losses, how is it that as people age, they generally feel good and experience greater well-being? Theorists have grappled with this paradox and have focused on how motivational, cognitive, control, and social factors impact emotional development across the adult life span. These foundational theories have paved the way to a deeper understanding of adult life-span development, but they do not draw as deeply from theories in affective science. Some of the latest perspectives on emotion and aging offer integrative views, such as how older adults may experience different discrete emotion (i.e., anger versus sadness) from an evolutionary functional perspective. Other perspectives consider how an array of appraisal processes may change across adulthood (such as shifts in evaluations of self-control versus other-control for younger versus older adults). These newer approaches dig deeper into mechanistic explanations and underscore the need for greater theoretical integration. Later life is clearly a time of increased well-being, but the field is only on the cusp of understanding the mysteries of emotional experience in later life.