Objectives: The majority of existing investigations on attention, aging, and driving have focused on the negative impacts of age-related declines in attention on hazard detection and driver performance. However, driving skills and behavioral compensation may accommodate for the negative effects that age-related attentional decline places on driving performance. In this study, we examined an important question that had been largely neglected in the literature linking attention, aging, and driving: can top-down factors such as behavioral compensation, specifically adaptive response criteria, accommodate the negative impacts from age-related attention declines on hazard detection during driving?
Methods: In the experiment, we used the Drive Aware Task, a task combining the driving context with well-controlled laboratory procedures measuring attention. We compared younger (n = 16, age 21-30) and older (n = 21, age 65-79) drivers on their attentional processing of hazards in driving scenes, indexed by percentage of correct responses and reaction time of hazard detection, as well as sensitivity and response criteria using signal detection analysis.
Results: Older drivers, in general, were less accurate and slower on the task than younger drivers. However, results from this experiment revealed that older, but not younger, drivers adapted their response criteria when the traffic condition changed in the driving scenes. When there was more traffic in the driving scene, older drivers became more liberal in their responses, meaning that they were more likely to report that a driving hazard was detected.
Conclusions: Older drivers adopt compensatory strategies for hazard detection during driving. Our findings showed that, in the driving context, even at an older age our attentional functions are still adaptive according to environmental conditions. This leads to considerations on potential training methods to promote adaptive strategies that may help older drivers maintain performance in road hazard detection.
Keywords: Aging; adaptive; attention; driving; hazard detection; response criterion.