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Learning where to look: Electrophysiological and behavioral indices of visual search in young and old subjects

Biological Psychology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/0301-0511(88)90024-5


Abstract The present investigation explores the way young and elderly subjects use regularities in target location in a visual display to guide search for targets. Although both young and old subjects show efficient use of search strategies, slight but reliable differences in reaction times suggest decreased ability in the elderly to use complex cues. Event-related potentials were very different for the young and the old. In the young, P3 amplitudes were larger on trials where the rule that governed the location of the target became evident; this was interpreted as an effect of memory updating. Enhanced positive Slow Wave amplitude indicated uncertainty in random search conditions. Elderly subjects' P3 and SW, however, seemed unrelated to behavioral performance, and they showed a large negative Slow Wave at central and parietal sites to randomly located targets. The latter finding was tentatively interpreted as a sign of increased effort in the elderly to allocate attention in visual space. This pattern of behavioral and ERP results suggests that age-related differences in search tasks can be understood in terms of changes in the strategy of allocating visual attention.

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