Cognitive Neuroscience of Aging: Linking Cognitive and Cerebral Aging

By Roberto Cabeza; Lars Nyberg et al. | Go to book overview

7
Age-Related Changes in Neural
Activity During Visual Perception
and Attention

David J. Madden Wythe L. Whiting Scott A. Huettel

The identification of objects and events in the environment depends on a variety of information-processing mechanisms that extend over time, however briefly. Consequently, there is not a complete dichotomy between perception and attention. Perceptual processing is initiated at the level of sensory receptors, but the contribution of attention is evident even at the earliest stages of identification. Psychophysical studies, for example, have demonstrated that attending to a specific display location facilitates both threshold-level detection and contextual integration (between a target and surrounding stimuli). These findings imply a modulating role of attention in what are usually considered early-level perceptual processes (Cameron, Tai, & Carrasco, 2002; Freeman, Sagi, & Driver, 2001).


Changes in Early Visual Processing

Age-related change typically occurs in several aspects of perceptual and attentional functioning, even for individuals who are in good health (Madden & Whiting, 2004; McDowd & Shaw, 2000; B. A. Schneider & Pichora-Fuller, 2000). In this chapter, we are concerned primarily with the visual system, although changes occur in the auditory and other sensory systems as well (Fozard & Gordon-Salant, 2001; Kline & Scialfa, 1996). The visual sensory system undergoes several age-related changes, leading to a degradation of the retinal image, including an increase in the density and hardness of the crystalline lens, a decrease in the resting diameter of the pupil, increased opacification of the lens, and loss of receptor cells within the retina (Scialfa, 2002). The result is increased scatter of light within the eye and substantial loss of

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