Prolonged Disengagement From Attentional Capture in Normal Aging

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Older adults are more vulnerable to a negative impact of irrelevant information on cognitive performance. We used a psychophysical approach to evaluate which aspects of distraction are altered in aging: susceptibility for attention to be captured by a distractor, or the timing of disengagement from processing a distractor. We found that younger and older adults were equally susceptible to a detrimental influence of attentional capture on target detection in the initial moments after distractor presentation, but older adults exhibited a longer time window for the negative effects of capture to resolve. As was recently shown in younger adults, the timing of disengagement from capture correlated with individual differences in visual working memory capacity in the older cohort. These results suggest that the larger impact by distraction on perceptual abilities in normal aging is not the result of a greater susceptibility to attentional capture by distraction, but rather the prolonged processing of distractors.

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