Despite many studies on the age-related positivity effect and its role in visual attention, discrepancies remain regarding whether full attention is required for age-related differences to emerge. The present study took a new approach to this question by varying the contextual demands of emotion processing. This was done by adding perceptual distractions, such as visual and auditory noise, that could disrupt attentional control. Younger and older participants viewed pairs of happy-neutral and fearful-neutral faces while their eye movements were recorded. Facial stimuli were shown either without noise, embedded in a background of visual noise (low, medium, or high), or with simultaneous auditory babble. Older adults showed positive gaze preferences, looking toward happy faces and away from fearful faces; however, their gaze preferences tended to be influenced by the level of visual noise. Specifically, the tendency to look away from fearful faces was not present in conditions with low and medium levels of visual noise but was present when there were high levels of visual noise. It is important to note, however, that in the high-visual-noise condition, external cues were present to facilitate the processing of emotional information. In addition, older adults' positive gaze preferences disappeared or were reduced when they first viewed emotional faces within a distracting context. The current results indicate that positive gaze preferences may be less likely to occur in distracting contexts that disrupt control of visual attention.