The effects of emotion on dissociable learning systems across the lifespan
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Contemporary cognitive theory recognizes several dissociable learning systems that are critical in understanding different patterns of performance. Rule Based learning is mediated predominantly by the frontal lobe and is available to conscious control. Here executive function and working memory develop verbalizable rules guided by corrective feedback. Procedural learning is based on integrating non-verbal information from multiple sources and is predominantly mediated by the striatum. Here habitual stimulus-response associations develop using corrective feedback. Perceptual Representation learning is based on passive familiarity predominantly mediated by the visual cortex. Here learning is not guided by on conscious evaluations or feedback. Age-related deficits in learning have been well documented, however dissociable learning systems approaches demonstrated the greatest declines occur in feedback-driven learning. In the face of declines, older adults maintain several well-persevered aspects of cognition. For example, older adults sometimes show enhanced processing of positive emotionally arousing stimuli, but this positivity bias reverses when cognitive control resources are limited becoming a negativity bias. Unlike previous work that explores emotional stimuli directly, the goal of Chapters 1 and 2 is to use emotional feedback to improve learning outcomes. In addition, older adults have a performance advantage over younger adults in perceptual representation learning in the absence of feedback. This suggests that the processes that underlie this mode of learning are relatively intact, however it is unclear what these processes are and how they contribute to performance. The dissociable memory systems that underlie rule based and perceptual representation learning demonstrate asymmetric age-related declines that may be driving these differences. Chapter 3 explores age-related changes processes during learning. Chapter 3 also highlights a younger adult deficit in perceptual representation learning. Generating rules depends on narrow attention to features, and perceptual representations depend on broad attention to the whole stimulus. Task-irrelevant emotional primes influence the scope of attention where negative arousal narrows and positive arousal broadens, which likely affects rule based and perceptual representation learning systems differently. Chapter 4 explores how task-irrelevant emotional primes influence attention and interact with learning system to enhance performance in younger adults.