Searching from the top down: Ageing and attentional guidance during singleton detection

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Previous investigations of adult age differences in visual search suggest that an age-related decline may exist in attentional processes dependent on the observer's knowledge of task-relevant features (top-down processing). The present experiments were conducted to examine age-related changes in top-down attentional guidance during a highly efficient form of search, singleton detection. In Experiment 1 reaction times to detect targets were lower when target features were constant (feature condition) than when target features were allowed to vary between trials (mixed condition), and this reaction time benefit was similar for younger and older adults. Experiments 2 and 3 investigated possible interactions between top-down and bottom-up (stimulus-driven) processes. Experiment 2 demonstrated that search times for both age groups could be improved when targets varied on an additional feature from distractors (double-feature condition) but only when top-down control was available (feature search). In Experiment 3, the availability of top-down guidance enabled both younger and older adults to override the distracting effects of a noninformative spatial location cue. These findings indicate that top-down attentional control mechanisms interact with bottom-up processes to guide search for targets, and that in the context of singleton detection these mechanisms of top-down control are preserved for older adults. Now at the Department of Psychology, Washington and Lee University.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2005

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