Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Reflexive Orienting in Response to Short- and Long-Duration Gaze Cues in Young, Young-Old, and Old-Old Adults

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Reflexive Orienting in Response to Short- and Long-Duration Gaze Cues in Young, Young-Old, and Old-Old Adults

Article excerpt

Published online: 30 October 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Shifting visual focus on the basis of the perceived gaze direction of another person is one form of joint attention. In the present study, we investigated whether this socially relevant form of orienting is reflexive and whether it is influenced by age. Green and Woldorff (Cognition 122:96-101, 2012) argued that rapid cueing effects (i.e., faster responses to validly than to invalidly cued targets) were limited to conditions in which a cue overlapped in time with a target. They attributed slower responses following invalid cues to the time needed to resolve the incongruent spatial information provided by the concurrently presented cue and target. In the present study, we examined the orienting responses of young (18-31 years), young-old (60-74 years), and old-old (75-91 years) adults following uninformative central gaze cues that overlapped in time with the target (Exp. 1) or that were removed prior to target presentation (Exp. 2). When the cue and target overlapped, all three groups localized validly cued targets more quickly than invalidly cued targets, and validity effects emerged earlier for the two younger groups (at 100 ms post-cue-onset) than for the old-old group (at 300 ms post-cue-onset). With a short-duration cue (Exp. 2), validity effects developed rapidly (by 100 ms) for all three groups, suggesting that validity effects resulted from reflexive orienting based on the gaze cue information rather than from cue-target conflict. Thus, although old-old adults may be slow to disengage from persistent gaze cues, attention continues to be reflexively guided by gaze cues late in life.

Keywords Aging · Attention · Reflexive orienting · Gaze cues · Cue duration · Time course · Old-old

Shifts in spatial attention are reflexive when they are elicited rapidly by stimuli uninformative of an upcoming object'sloca- tion. Originally thought to occur specifically in response to peripherally presented stimuli, reflexive orienting has also been demonstrated in response to centrally fixated directional stimuli (e.g., arrow cues and gaze cues; Friesen & Kingstone, 1998; Ristic, Friesen, & Kingstone, 2002;Tipples,2002). The present study examined the nature of spatial orienting triggered by gaze cues. Evolutionary and social advantages are associated with rapidly shifting attention in response to a person's gaze; responding to threats or resources in the environment identified by a companion could lead to faster evasive or approach reac- tions. The gaze direction of another person is also an important nonverbal cue in social communication. In childhood, orienting in response to gaze direction promotes the development of joint attention-that is, the ability to coordinate attention with another observer, which facilitates learning, language development, and social competence (see the reviews by Frischen, Bayliss, & Tipper, 2007; Mundy & Newell, 2007). Surprisingly, although developmental patterns of gaze- based orienting and joint attention have been investigated in infancy and childhood, the developmental changes later in life have only begun to be explored. Joint attention as guided by gaze direction likely remains important for co- operative cognition among older adults. The purpose of the present study was twofold: to explore the reflexive orienting properties of gaze cues, and to assess adult age patterns in gaze-triggered orienting. In the following sec- tions, we review the current evidence regarding reflexive orienting in response to central spatial cues and age-related modifications of these orienting patterns.

Reflexive orienting to central spatial cues

Researchers have traditionally used two types of cues to measure spatial orienting (Posner, 1980; Posner & Cohen, 1984): peripheral cues, which are presented outside the cur- rent attentional focus and are uninformative of the target location, and central arrow cues, which are presented at visual fixation and provide informative directional information (e. …

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