Temporal Orienting of Attention Can Be Preserved in Normal Aging

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Abstract

Being able to orient our attention to moments in time is crucial for optimizing behavioral performance. In young adults, flexible cue-based temporal expectations have been shown to modulate perceptual functions and enhance behavioral performance. Recent studies with older individuals have reported significant deficits in cued temporal orienting. To investigate the extent of these deficits, the authors conducted 3 studies in healthy old and young adults. For each study, participants completed 2 tasks: a reaction time (RT) task that emphasized speeded responding and a nonspeeded rapid-serial-visual-presentation task that emphasized visual discrimination. Auditory cues indicated the likelihood of a target item occurring after a short or long temporal interval (foreperiod; 75% validity). In the first study, cues indicating a short or a long foreperiod were manipulated across blocks. The second study was designed to replicate and extend the first study by manipulating the predictive temporal cues on a trial-by-trial basis. The third study extended the findings by including neutral cues so that it was possible to separate cueing validity benefits and invalidity costs. In all 3 studies, cued temporal expectation conferred significant performance advantages for target stimuli occurring after the short foreperiod for both old and young participants. Contrary to previous findings, these results suggest that the ability to allocate attention to moments in time can be preserved in healthy aging. Further research is needed to ascertain whether similar neural networks are used to orient attention in time as we age, and/or whether compensatory mechanisms are at work in older individuals.

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