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Aging and the rate of visual information processing

Guest, Duncan and Howard, Christina J. and Brown, Louise A. and Gleeson, Harriet (2015) Aging and the rate of visual information processing. Journal of Vision, 15 (14). ISSN 1534-7362

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Abstract

Multiple methods exist for measuring how age influences the rate of visual information processing. The most advanced methods model the processing dynamics in a task in order to estimate processing rates independently of other factors that might be influenced by age, such as overall performance level and the time at which processing onsets. However, such modeling techniques have produced mixed evidence for age effects. Using a time-accuracy function (TAF) analysis, Kliegl, Mayr, and Krampe (1994) showed clear evidence for age effects on processing rate. In contrast, using the diffusion model to examine the dynamics of decision processes, Ratcliff and colleagues (e.g., Ratcliff, Thapar, & McKoon, 2006) found no evidence for age effects on processing rate across a range of tasks. Examination of these studies suggests that the number of display stimuli might account for the different findings. In three experiments we measured the precision of younger and older adults' representations of target stimuli after different amounts of stimulus exposure. A TAF analysis found little evidence for age differences in processing rate when a single stimulus was presented (Experiment 1). However, adding three nontargets to the display resulted in age-related slowing of processing (Experiment 2). Similar slowing was observed when simply presenting two stimuli and using a post-cue to indicate the target (Experiment 3). Although there was some interference from distracting objects and from previous responses, these age-related effects on processing rate seem to reflect an age-related difficulty in processing multiple objects, particularly when encoding them into visual working memory.