Are age-related changes in cognitive function driven by age-related changes in sensory processing?

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2013 Apr;75(3):508-24. doi: 10.3758/s13414-012-0406-9.


Although there has been keen interest in the association among measures of sensory function and cognitive function for many years, in general, measures of sensory function have been confined to one or two senses and measures of threshold sensitivity (acuity). In this study, rigorous psychophysical measures of threshold sensitivity, temporal gap detection, temporal order identification, and temporal masking have been obtained, in hearing, vision, and touch. In addition, all subjects completed 15 subtests of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, 3rd edition (WAIS-III). Data were obtained from 245 adults (18-87 years old) for the WAIS-III and for 40 measures of threshold sensitivity and temporal processing. The focus in this report is on individual differences in performance for the entire data set. Principal-components (PC) factor analysis reduced the 40 psychophysical measures to eight correlated factors, which were reduced further to a single global sensory processing factor. Similarly, PC factor analysis of the 15 WAIS-III scores resulted in three correlated factors that were further reduced to a single global cognitive function factor. Age, global sensory processing, and global cognitive function were all moderately and significantly correlated with one another. However, paired partial correlations, controlling for the third of these three measures, revealed that the moderate correlation between age and global cognitive function went to zero when global sensory processing was controlled for; the other two partial correlations remained intact. Structural models confirmed this result. These analyses suggest that the long-standing observation of age-related changes in cognitive function may be mediated by age-related changes in global sensory processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology
  • Touch Perception / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Wechsler Scales
  • Young Adult