Executive Functioning and Nontarget Emotions in Late Life

Jacquelyn E. Stephens, David B.Rompilla Jr., Emily F. Hittner, Vijay Anand Mittal, Claudia M. Haase*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When confronted with an emotion prototype (e.g., loss), individuals may experience not only target emotions (e.g., sadness), but also nontarget emotions (emotions that are atypical or incongruent with an emotion prototype; e.g., gratitude in response to loss). What are the cognitive correlates of nontarget emotions? Drawing from models of emotion generation, the present laboratory-based study examined associations between aspects of executive functioning (i.e., working memory, inhibition, verbal fluency) and the subjective experience of positive and negative nontarget emotions in response to sad and awe film clips in 129 healthy older adults. Findings showed that (a) lower working memory was associated with higher levels of positive and negative nontarget (but not target) emotions in response to sad and awe film clips. Moreover, (b) associations were specific to working memory and not found for other aspects of executive functioning. Associations were (c) robust when accounting for age, gender, education, target emotion and physiological arousal (except for negative nontarget emotions in response to the sad film clips). Finally, (d) findings were driven by awe, happiness, calm, and gratitude for the sad film clips and disgust, fear, sadness, compassion, happiness, love, and excitement for the awe film clips. Overall, these findings show a link between lower working memory function and elevated nontarget emotional experiences in late life. Directions for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Aging
  • Emotional experience
  • Nontarget emotions
  • Positive emotions
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Executive Functioning and Nontarget Emotions in Late Life'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this