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Front Psychol. 2013 Jun 21;4:339. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00339. eCollection 2013.

Age-related changes in visual exploratory behavior in a natural scene setting.

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Department of Neurology, University of Rochester Medical Center, University of Rochester Rochester, NY, USA.


Diverse cognitive functions decline with increasing age, including the ability to process central and peripheral visual information in a laboratory testing situation (useful visual field of view). To investigate whether and how this influences activities of daily life, we studied age-related changes in visual exploratory behavior in a natural scene setting: a driving simulator paradigm of variable complexity was tested in subjects of varying ages with simultaneous eye- and head-movement recordings via a head-mounted camera. Detection and reaction times were also measured by visual fixation and manual reaction. We considered video computer game experience as a possible influence on performance. Data of 73 participants of varying ages were analyzed, driving two different courses. We analyzed the influence of route difficulty level, age, and eccentricity of test stimuli on oculomotor and driving behavior parameters. No significant age effects were found regarding saccadic parameters. In the older subjects head-movements increasingly contributed to gaze amplitude. More demanding courses and more peripheral stimuli locations induced longer reaction times in all age groups. Deterioration of the functionally useful visual field of view with increasing age was not suggested in our study group. However, video game-experienced subjects revealed larger saccade amplitudes and a broader distribution of fixations on the screen. They reacted faster to peripheral objects suggesting the notion of a general detection task rather than perceiving driving as a central task. As the video game-experienced population consisted of younger subjects, our study indicates that effects due to video game experience can easily be misinterpreted as age effects if not accounted for. We therefore view it as essential to consider video game experience in all testing methods using virtual media.


aging; driving simulator; eye movements; oculomotor behavior; video game experience; visual attention

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