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Psychol Aging. 1999 Dec;14(4):683-94.

Adult age differences in visual search accuracy: attentional guidance and target detectability.

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Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.


Previous research, relying primarily on reaction time measures of highly accurate performance, suggests that both younger and older adults can increase the efficiency of visual search by guiding attention to a candidate subset of items. The authors investigated attentional guidance when accuracy was well below ceiling to focus more specifically on the role of perceptual processes. In the most difficult condition (conjunction search), the likelihood of missing a target was greater for older adults than for younger adults, and this effect was not attributable entirely to generalized slowing. Both age groups were able to improve search efficiency by attending to a distinct subset of display items, indicating that attentional guidance to perceptual features does not exhibit age-related decline. A signal-detection model of the conjunction search data demonstrated that the age difference represented an age-related decline in target detectability.

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