Age differences in the spatial distribution of attention over a wide field of view have only been described in terms of the spatial extent, leaving the topographical aspect unexplored. This study examined age differences between younger and older adults in good general health in an important topographical characteristic, the asymmetry between the upper and lower visual fields. In Experiment 1, we found age differences across the entire attentional visual field. In addition, age differences were greater in the upper compared to the lower field. In Experiment 2, we examined whether the finding of a greater age difference in the ability to localize a target among distractors in the upper visual field in Experiment 1 was a result of possible differential age differences between the upper and lower visual fields in the ability to localize a target even when there was no distractor competing for attention. Our results suggested that the age differences we observed were linked to age differences in the ability to filter out distractors that compete with the target for attention rather than the ability to process only the target over a wide field of view. While younger adults demonstrated an upper visual field advantage in the ability to localize a target among distractors, there was no such field advantage in older adults. We discuss this finding of diminished upper visual field advantage in older adults in light of an account of pervasive loss of neural specialization with age. We postulate that one possible explanation of age differences in the asymmetry between the upper and lower visual fields may be an adaptation to age-related physical decline. We also discuss important implications of our findings in risks of falls and vehicle crashes.
Keywords: Adaptation; Aging; Asymmetry; Attentional visual field.