Aging and distraction by irrelevant speech: Does emotional valence matter?

P.W.M. van Gerven*, D.R. Murphy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objectives. From prior studies, we know that older adults are rarely more distracted by irrelevant speech than younger adults, which is remarkable in light of the inhibitory deficit view of aging. We tested the hypothesis that older adults are more distracted by emotional irrelevant speech during a visual cognitive task than younger adults. Methods. Forty-eight younger (mean age = 21.9 years) and 48 older individuals (mean age = 68.1 years) performed a visual counting task while being exposed to irrelevant speech consisting of random numbers intermixed with neutral, positive, or negative words. Performance in these conditions was compared with that in a silence condition. Results. Irrelevant speech increased counting time and decreased accuracy similarly for younger and older adults. Furthermore, the emotional conditions did not elicit a stronger effect than the neutral condition. Finally, we found implicit memory for irrelevant speech, but its level was independent of emotional valence and age. Discussion. We conclude that emotional irrelevant speech has no disproportionate impact on cognitive performance in older adults. This can be regarded as a challenge to the inhibitory deficit hypothesis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-670
Number of pages4
JournalJournals of Gerontology Series B-Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010


  • Distraction
  • Emotional valence
  • Inhibition
  • Irrelevant speech


Dive into the research topics of 'Aging and distraction by irrelevant speech: Does emotional valence matter?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this