Attention and ageing: Measuring effects of involuntary and voluntary orienting in isolation and in combination

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The cueing paradigm provides an established method for eliciting involuntary and voluntary attention shifts. Involuntary orienting is traditionally measured with non-predictive peripheral cues and voluntary orienting with predictive central arrows. Recent studies with young adults have established that predictive central arrows trigger a combination of involuntary and voluntary orienting, raising the possibility that previous studies – including those with older adults – misinterpreted their findings with central arrow cues as isolating the effects of voluntary attention. The present experiment applied different cueing conditions that measured involuntary orienting, voluntary orienting, and involuntary and voluntary orienting in combination in older adults. The results show that past studies of voluntary orienting in older adults confound involuntary and voluntary orienting. Cueing effects in a condition that for the first time isolated voluntary orienting (predictive number cues) with older adults were significant, and comparable to effects for younger adults, demonstrating that older adults successfully utilize cues to direct their spatial attention strategically. A similar normal pattern of orienting was observed for involuntary orienting. Our study provides a methodology that can be applied effectively to isolate and investigate the effects of age on voluntary and involuntary attention.

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