INTRODUCTION. Many studies have shown that in both normal and pathological ageing there is a deterioration of emotional processing, especially as regards negative emotions such as fear. AIM. To review the most important neurological and psychological research carried out to study emotional processing and relate it to the cognitive deterioration that characterises normal ageing and neurodegenerative diseases. DEVELOPMENT. Here, we discuss the two main lines of research, i.e. the socio emotional approach, which claims that as we get older we gain a better understanding of our emotions because of a deeper knowledge of social relationships, interpersonal enrichment and the importance of goals that are linked to our emotional life; and, on the other hand, the neuropsychological approach, which studies the areas of brain activation involved in processing emotional facial expressions and the underlying mental processes. CONCLUSIONS. Both approaches underline the deficient processing of negative emotions that comes with age, while processing of positive emotions remains relatively intact. Recent research suggests that deficits in emotional processing depend on the cognitive deterioration that characterises ageing. When the task requires resources from working memory, which is one of the first systems to deteriorate in ageing, the result is compromised emotional processing. Yet, when the task requires the use of implicit memory, no age-related alterations are observed in emotional processing.