Conference Paper

Hybrid visual and memory search is preserved in older age

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... Therefore, more adaptions of the DIIN task are required, i.e., a computerized task with real-world objects or a real task with abstract shapes. There are efforts to design laboratory visual search tasks that allow testing attention and memory performance in real-world behavior, e.g., airport security and medical screening in a controlled way (Evans et al., 2013;Wolfe et al., 2013) and recently also to test age differences therein (Wiegand and Wolfe, 2018). These approaches should be taken into account when developing comparable tasks in order to answer questions about ecological validity. ...
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Cognitive performance is often found to be lower in older adults, especially when the task requires memory, executive functions, or selective attention. But this alleged deterioration may have been overestimated in the past due to ecologically invalid testing. To verify this possible misjudgment here we compared age-related memory performance in a typical, abstract computer task to a paper-pencil test with a real-world map and to an even more realistic task that took place in a real room with everyday objects. Retention and response intervals differed between the tasks as they had to be adjusted to the different settings. Twenty-seven younger (19-29 years old) and twenty-three older participants (61-77 years old) took part in the study. As expected younger participants outperformed the older ones in the computer task. However, although older adults' performance was better in both more realistic tasks, the delta to the young remained the same as in the computer task. Hence, these results do not support the general notion that older adults would profit from more realistic test scenarios. On the other hand, performance in a clinical screening task correlated only with the performance in the real world task suggesting that this task reflected the general cognitive status of participants better than the more abstract tasks. Finally, it was observed that the presence of task-irrelevant distractor items actually helped older adults to improve their performance in the paper pencil task arguing against the assumption of a general age-related impairment of inhibition. In sum, the present results show that age-related changes in memory are neither simply explained by reduced abilities to deal with abstract computer tasks nor by disturbed inhibition processes.
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