Age and the selectivity of visual information processing

Psychol Aging. 1986 Mar;1(1):4-10. doi: 10.1037//0882-7974.1.1.4.


Two experiments were conducted to assess age differences in the selectivity of visual information processing. Selectivity was measured by the amount of interference caused by nontarget letters when subjects detected a target letter in a visual display. In both experiments, young and elderly groups participated in search and nonsearch conditions; in the search condition targets appeared anywhere in the display, whereas in the nonsearch condition targets were confined to the center position of the display. In the first experiment, subjects were assigned to either condition for two sessions of testing, and in the second experiment each subject participated in both conditions. In both experiments nontargets produced larger interference effects for old compared to young adults in the search condition but not in the nonsearch condition. The obtained pattern of age effects could not be explained by age-related reductions in parafoveal acuity. The findings indicate that the magnitude of divided-attention deficit increases with age, whereas focused-attention deficits are unaffected by aging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attention*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reaction Time
  • Space Perception
  • Visual Fields
  • Visual Perception*