Automatic Selective Attention as a Function of Sensory Modality in Aging

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Objectives.It was recently hypothesized that age-related differences in selective attention depend on sensory modality (Guerreiro, M. J. S., Murphy, D. R., & Van Gerven, P. W. M. (2010). The role of sensory modality in age-related distraction: A critical review and a renewed view. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 975–1022. doi:10.1037/a0020731). So far, this hypothesis has not been tested in automatic selective attention. The current study addressed this issue by investigating age-related differences in automatic spatial cueing effects (i.e., facilitation and inhibition of return [IOR]) across sensory modalities.Methods.Thirty younger (mean age = 22.4 years) and 25 older adults (mean age = 68.8 years) performed 4 left–right target localization tasks, involving all combinations of visual and auditory cues and targets. We used stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs) of 100, 500, 1,000, and 1,500 ms between cue and target.Results.The results showed facilitation (shorter reaction times with valid relative to invalid cues at shorter SOAs) in the unimodal auditory and in both cross-modal tasks but not in the unimodal visual task. In contrast, there was IOR (longer reaction times with valid relative to invalid cues at longer SOAs) in both unimodal tasks but not in either of the cross-modal tasks. Most important, these spatial cueing effects were independent of age.Discussion.The results suggest that the modality hypothesis of age-related differences in selective attention does not extend into the realm of automatic selective attention.

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