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PLoS One. 2015 Apr 16;10(4):e0123625. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0123625. eCollection 2015.

Children can implicitly, but not voluntarily, direct attention in time.

Author information

1
School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia.
2
Laboratoire des Neurosciences Cognitives, Aix-Marseille Université and CNRS, 3 Place Victor-Hugo, Marseille, France.

Abstract

Children are able to use spatial cues to orient their attention to discrete locations in space from around 4 years of age. In contrast, no research has yet investigated the ability of children to use informative cues to voluntarily predict when an event will occur in time. The spatial and temporal attention task was used to determine whether children were able to voluntarily orient their attention in time, as well as in space: symbolic spatial and temporal cues predicted where or when an imperative target would appear. Thirty typically developing children (average age 11 yrs) and 32 adults (average age 27 yrs) took part. Confirming previous findings, adults made use of both spatial and temporal cues to optimise behaviour, and were significantly slower to respond to invalidly cued targets in either space or time. Children were also significantly slowed by invalid spatial cues, demonstrating their use of spatial cues to guide expectations. In contrast, children's responses were not slowed by invalid temporal cues, suggesting that they were not using the temporal cue to voluntarily orient attention through time. Children, as well as adults, did however demonstrate signs of more implicit forms of temporal expectation: RTs were faster for long versus short cue-target intervals (the variable foreperiod effect) and slower when the preceding trial's cue-target interval was longer than that on the current trial (sequential effects). Overall, our results suggest that although children implicitly made use of the temporally predictive information carried by the length of the current and previous trial's cue-target interval, they could not deliberately use symbolic temporal cues to speed responses. The developmental trajectory of the ability to voluntarily use symbolic temporal cues is therefore delayed, relative both to the use of symbolic (arrow) spatial cues, and to the use of implicit temporal information.

PMID:
25881188
PMCID:
PMC4399911
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0123625
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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