Influence of Sad Mood and Old Age Schema on Older Adults’ Attention to Physical Symptoms

Most of the people are more inclined to give attention to emotionally dominant stimuli in their environment, which is termed as attentional bias. The article assigned for this week investigates whether the effect of the sad mood on older adults’ attentional bias to symptoms increases with cognitive schema of old age. In this paper, firstly, I will give a brief summary of the article. Then, I will mention its contribution to the literature. Finally, I will tell its limitation with respect to the method used in the study.

The participants in the study were seventy one older adults who are 60 years old and above, proficient in English, not depressed and do not have visual impairment. They were divided in to four groups that are control, old age schema, sad mood and both sad mood and old age schema groups. Before Stroop task, sad mood group wrote a distressing event they experienced in their life, and old age schema group responded eight aging related questions. After that, Stroop task which includes physical symptom, neutral and aging-related words was applied to them. The findings indicated that the participants in old-age schema group gave more attention to symptom words than control group, and also the ones in sad mood group attended more to   symptom words than control group. However, when sad mood was combined with old age schema, a net attentional bias to symptoms was observed in people. Therefore, it was concluded that older adults’ symptom-related information processing is affected by both sad mood and age-related cognitions.

I think the article contributed to the literature in two ways. Firstly, it took into account not only mood but also cognitive schema of older people who were studied for the first time in an attentional bias experiment. Therefore, the article showed that beside mood another factors can be effective in attentional bias. Secondly, I consider that by applying procedure in this study, detecting some physical diseases of old people as well as mental disorders such as Alzheimer becomes easier since experimental group gave more attention to the symptoms they experienced as a result of their ages. Hence, without making some medical tests, Stroop test can reveal what old people suffer from more and what might be the disease arisen from their pains. I think, in one study, physical disease that is concluded after applying Stroop test mentioned in the article to old people can be compared with the results gotten from actual treatment procedures.

I ponder that there is one limitation not related with design of the study but the use of Stroop task. Stroop task in the article consisted of only word forms of the symptoms, and attentional bias was measured after subtracting the average response latency to symptom words. My concern is whether written symptom words were effective enough to get attention of the old people. It is possible that reactions to symptom words in the study may not be similar to reactions to physical symptoms in real life. Consequently, I think word forms of the symptoms may not be powerful in revealing attentional bias of old people. My suggestion is that symptom words should be mismatched with other symptoms’ photos. For example, while there is a photo in which a person holds his/her head to show headache symptom, the words to be written on the photo will be cough. In this way, I consider that visual demonstration of the symptoms may increase mean reaction time in the study, and becomes more favorable for getting a net attentional bias.

On the whole, thanks to the article of this week, I witnessed a differently designed Stroop task experiment, and I learnt that beside mood, age-related cognitions have an influence on attention.


Poon, C.Y.M., & Knight, B.G. (2009). Infl uence of sad mood and old age schema on older adults’ attention to physical symptoms. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 64B(1), 41–44.