Age-related changes in local and global visual perception

J Vis. 2019 Jan 2;19(1):10. doi: 10.1167/19.1.10.


Over the past 40 years, research has addressed the impact of the aging process on various aspects of visual function. Most studies have focused on age-related visual impairment in low-level local features of visual objects, such as orientation, contrast sensitivity and spatial frequency. However, whether there are lifespan changes in global visual perception is still unclear. To suitably frame this question, we defined global visual patterns by a topological approach, and local visual patterns were manipulated with different levels of geometrical invariants in descending order of structural stability from projective, affine, and then Euclidean features. Using the Configural Superiority Effect, we investigated the influence of aging on local and global visual perception through a comparison of young and old adults in Experiment 1; moreover, we provided continuous-aging data from 21 to 78 years of age to investigate age-related changes in visual perception in Experiment 2. We found a large perceptual decline across increasing age groups in local geometrical perception: for example, Euclidean (orientation), affine (parallelism), and projective (collinearity) discrimination. Moreover, the study provides a counterintuitive finding that global topological perception resists the aging process and remains constant throughout adult lifespan. These findings highlight the possibility that for humans, global topology may be a stable and fundamental component by which visual systems represent and characterize objects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orientation, Spatial / physiology
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult