Online Modulation of Selective Attention is not Impaired in Healthy Aging
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Background/Study Context: Reduced processing speed pervades a great many aspects of human aging and cognition. However, little is known about one aspect of cognitive aging in which speed is of the essence, namely, the speed with which older adults can deploy attention in response to a cue. METHODS: The authors compared rapid temporal modulation of cued visual attention in younger (Mage = 22.3 years) and older (Mage = 68.9 years) adults. On each trial of a short-term memory task, a cue identified which of two briefly presented stimuli was task relevant and which one should be ignored. After a short delay, subjects demonstrated recall by reproducing from memory the task-relevant stimulus. This produced estimates of (i) accuracy with which the task-relevant stimulus was recalled, (ii) the influence of stimuli encountered on previous trials (a prototype effect), and (iii) the influence of the trial's task-irrelevant stimulus. RESULTS: For both groups, errors in recall were considerably smaller when selective attention was cued before rather than after presentation of the stimuli. Both groups showed serial position effects to the same degree, and both seemed equally adept at exploiting the stimuli encountered on previous trials as a means of supplementing recall accuracy on the current trial. CONCLUSION: Younger and older subjects may not differ reliably in capacity for cue-directed temporal modulation of selective attention, or in ability to draw on previously seen stimuli as memory support.
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