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Aging Reduces Brain’s Ability To Filter Distractions

A new study suggests that the brain’s ability to selectively filter unattended or unwanted information is compromised as we age.

University of Toronto scientists discovered visual attention diminishes with age, leaving older adults less capable of filtering out distracting or irrelevant information.

Further, this age-related “leaky” attentional filter fundamentally affects the way visual information is encoded into memory.

Older adults with impaired visual attention have better memory for “irrelevant” information.

The research, conducted by members of the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychology, is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

In the study, the research team examined brain images using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on a group of young (mean age = 22 years) and older adults (mean age = 77 years) while they looked at pictures of overlapping faces and places (houses and buildings).

Participants were asked to only pay attention to the faces and to identify the gender of the person. Even though they could see the place in the image, it was not relevant to the task at hand.

“In young adults, the brain region for processing faces was active while the brain region for processing places was not,” says Taylor Schmitz, lead author of the research paper.

“However, both the face and place regions were active in older people. This means that even at early stages of perception, older adults were less capable of filtering out the distracting information. Moreover, on a surprise memory test 10 minutes after the scan, older adults were more likely to recognize what face was originally paired with what house.”

The findings suggest that under attentionally demanding conditions, such as looking for one’s keys on a cluttered table, age-related problems with “tuning in” to the desired object may be linked to the way in which information is selected and processed in the sensory areas of the brain.

Both the relevant sensory information — the keys — and the irrelevant information — the clutter — are perceived and encoded more or less equally.

In older adults, these changes in visual attention may broadly influence many of the cognitive deficits typically observed in normal aging, particularly memory.

Source: University of Toronto

Aging Reduces Brain’s Ability To Filter Distractions

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Aging Reduces Brain’s Ability To Filter Distractions. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 18, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/11/03/aging-reduces-brains-ability-to-filter-distractions/20493.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.