Is there a connection between aging and facial recognition? Plaza employee explains link found in her research

You've probably never heard of prosopagnosia. But you might know it by its more common name: face blindness.

Before graduation from Augsburg University in 2018, Walker Methodist Plaza Life Enrichment Assistant Madeline Kinn completed 400 hours of research on the topic with Psychology Professor Dr. Ben Denkinger.

Her major in clinical psychology, coupled with her minor in studio art, led to her fascination with prosopagnosia. In art class, she learned about Chuck Close, an American artist with face blindness who paints abstract portraits of faces. Because of his artwork, she grew more interested in the topic.

She and Dr. Denkinger researched facial recognition and aging using eye-tracking technology. Their research yielded interesting results, led to a published study, and helped Madeline relate better with some of the seniors she works with each day.

The results of their study ultimately showed that people tend to recognize faces of those who are closest in age to themselves, a phenomena called the own-age bias. Additionally, positive, happy faces tend to be recognized more accurately than negative or neutral faces, especially in older adults.

Madeline's research helps her fulfill her role as life enrichment assistant. "Your residents will remember you better if you have a happy expression," said Madeline. "I've been called different names at times, and I know it's because of the 'own-age bias.' They're not intentionally trying to be confused, and it keeps my feelings from getting hurt."

Madeline said her research has helped her value her connection with older adults, a connection that began in childhood.

"I've been blessed to know five of my great-grandparents. I have fond memories with them, and I'm named after my dad's grandma who is 103," said Madeline. "I want to continue working in senior care because I know this is my calling. What's important for me in my career is to continue being an advocate for seniors."

Madeline has presented the team's research at Augsburg's annual public Zyzzogeton Symposium, the Minnesota Undergraduate Psychology Conference, and the Midwestern Psychological Association Conference. The study was published in 2018 by Experimental Aging Research Journal: An International Journal Devoted to the Scientific Study of the Aging Process.

Topics: Featured, Walker Methodist News

Amy Weiss

Written by Amy Weiss

Walker Methodist storyteller and marketing assistant

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