Age related differences in learning with the useful field of view
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In naturalistic tasks, subjects often interact with a cluttered visual environment in which they need to divide their attention simultaneously among multiple objects and tasks. Previous work examining the effects of aging in tasks that approximate these real world demands have shown that performance often declines with age. For example, when subjects must perform central and peripheral visual tasks simultaneously in a Useful Field of View (UFOV) task, performance on the peripheral task declines relative to when subjects perform the peripheral task alone, and this divided-attention deficit grows decade-by-decade throughout our lifetimes [e.g., Sekuler, A.B., Bennett, P.J., and Mamelak, M. (2000). Effects of Aging on the Useful Field of View. Experimental Aging Research, 26, 103-120]. Here, we investigated the extent to which age-related differences in divided-attention could be overcome with practice. In addition, we assessed how divided attention costs varied when initial performance levels were equated across age groups at the start of practice. Experiment 1 determined the stimulus durations that approximately equated attentional costs for younger and older subjects. These stimulus durations were used in Experiments 2 and 3 to equate task difficulty across age. Experiments 2 and 3 examined the effect of practice for 1-2 weeks. Practice improved performance for both younger and older subjects, and, when older subjects were provided with enough practice, their attentional costs were equivalent to those of younger subjects. Indeed, with enough practice, both younger and older subjects reached a point where they showed no divided-attention deficits, although older subjects may need more practice to reach this point. Finally, the beneficial effects of practice were maintained for at least three months.
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