Vision and touch in ageing: crossmodal selective attention and visuotactile spatial interactions.
Poliakoff E., Ashworth S., Lowe C., Spence C.
We investigated whether ageing affects crossmodal selective attention (the ability to focus on a relevant sensory modality and ignore an irrelevant modality) and the spatial constraints on such selective processing. Three groups of 24 participants were tested: Young (19-25 years), Young-Old (65-72 years) and Old-Old (76-92 years). The participants had to judge the elevation of vibrotactile targets (upper/index finger and lower/thumb), presented randomly to either hand while ignoring concurrent visual distractors. In a second task, the role of the target and distractor modalities was reversed. Crossmodal selective attention was assessed by comparing performance in the presence versus absence of distractors. Spatial constraints on selective attention were also investigated by comparing the effect of distractors presented on the same versus opposite side as the target. When attending to touch, the addition of visual distractors had a significantly larger effect on error rates in both of the older groups as compared to the Young group. This indicates that ageing has a detrimental effect on crossmodal selective attention. In all three age groups, performance was impaired when the target and distractor were presented at incongruent as compared to congruent elevations in both tasks. This congruency effect was modulated by the relative spatial location of the target and distractor in certain conditions for the Young and the Young-Old group. That is, participants in the two younger age groups found it harder to attend selectively to targets in one modality, when distractor stimuli came from the same side rather than from the opposite side. However, no significant spatial modulation was found in the Old-Old group. This suggests that ageing may also compromise spatial aspects of crossmodal selective attention.