Adolescents and older adults lack attention to social cues in social interactions

A new study released by the University of Kent showed that adolescents and older adults tend to lack attention to social cues in real-world interactions, in comparison to young adults.

Published in Nature Human Behavior, their findings are based on the notion that social attention changes upon aging, with impacts on how conventional social interactions are interpreted.

Two experiments were conducted, comparing adolescents, young adults, and the elderly.

“In two real-world tasks, participants were immersed in different social interaction situations—a face-to-face conversation and navigating an environment—and their attention to social and non-social content was recorded using eye-tracking glasses,” the findings read.

“The results revealed that, compared with young adults, adolescents and older adults attended less to social information (that is, the face) during face-to-face conversation, and to people when navigating the real world,” the authors also wrote in their findings.

Given these results, it was inferred that real-world social attention undergoes age-related change, with more impact on predicting successful social interactions of daily life than previously known.

“Interpreting the facial expression, tone of voice and gestures of others is a vital element of social interaction that allow us to make rapid inferences about others’ mental states, such as their intentions, emotions, desires and beliefs. Successful social interaction prompts perspective-taking and empathy along with other essential social skills, and plays an important role in enhancing our wellbeing,” the findings concluded.

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