The role of sensory modality in age-related distraction: A critical review and a renewed view

M.J.S. Guerreiro, D.R. Murphy, P.W.M. van Gerven

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Selective attention requires the ability to focus on relevant information and to ignore irrelevant information. The ability to inhibit irrelevant information has been proposed to be the main source of age-related cognitive change (e.g., Hasher & Zacks, 1988). Although age-related distraction by irrelevant information has been extensively demonstrated in the visual modality, studies involving auditory and cross-modal paradigms have revealed a mixed pattern of results. A comparative evaluation of these paradigms according to sensory modality suggests a twofold trend: Age-related distraction is more likely (a) in unimodal than in cross-modal paradigms and (b) when irrelevant information is presented in the visual modality, rather than in the auditory modality. This distinct pattern of age-related changes in selective attention may be linked to the reliance of the visual and auditory modalities on different filtering mechanisms. Distractors presented through the auditory modality can be filtered at both central and peripheral neurocognitive levels. In contrast, distractors presented through the visual modality are primarily suppressed at more central levels of processing, which may be more vulnerable to aging. We propose the hypothesis that age-related distractibility is modality dependent, a notion that might need to be incorporated in current theories of cognitive aging. Ultimately, this might lead to a more accurate account for the mixed pattern of impaired and preserved selective attention found in advancing age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)975-1022
Number of pages48
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Volume136
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010

Keywords

  • AUDITORY SELECTIVE ATTENTION
  • COLOR-WORD TEST
  • DOWN SUPPRESSION DEFICIT
  • ERROR-RELATED ERPS
  • EVENT-RELATED POTENTIALS
  • EVOKED OTOACOUSTIC EMISSIONS
  • OLDER-ADULTS
  • SHORT-TERM-MEMORY
  • STROOP INTERFERENCE
  • WORKING-MEMORY
  • aging
  • distraction
  • inhibition
  • selective attention
  • sensory modality

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