Crowded environments reduce spatial memory in older but not younger adults
- 432 Downloads
Previous studies have reported an age-related decline in spatial abilities. However, little is known about whether the presence of other, task-irrelevant stimuli during learning further affects spatial cognition in older adults. Here we embedded virtual environments with moving crowds of virtual human pedestrians (Experiment 1) or objects (Experiment 2) whilst participants learned a route and landmarks embedded along that route. In subsequent test trials we presented clips from the learned route and measured spatial memory using three different tasks: a route direction task (i.e. whether the video clip shown was a repetition or retracing of the learned route); an intersection direction task; and a task involving identity of the next landmark encountered. In both experiments, spatial memory was tested in two separate sessions: first following learning of an empty maze environment and second using a different maze which was populated. Older adults performed worse than younger adults in all tasks. Moreover, the presence of crowds during learning resulted in a cost in performance to the spatial tasks relative to the ‘no crowds’ condition in older adults but not in younger adults. In contrast, crowd distractors did not affect performance on the landmark sequence task. There was no age-related cost on performance with object distractors. These results suggest that crowds of human pedestrians selectively capture older adults’ attention during learning. These findings offer further insights into how spatial memory is affected by the ageing process, particularly in scenarios which are representative of real-world situations.
Compliance with ethical standards
This research was funded by the European Commission FP7 ‘VERVE’ Project, Grant No. 288914 and by Science Foundation Ireland Principal Investigator Grants (‘Metropolis’ Project Number 06/IN.1/I96 and ‘Socialising Agents’ Project Number 10/IN.1/13003) awarded to FNN and CO’S.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed, written consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study prior to testing.
- Clapp, W. C., Rubens, M. T., Sabharwal, J., & Gazzaley, A. (2011). Deficit in switching between functional brain networks underlies the impact of multitasking on working memory in older adults. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(17), 7212–7217. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015297108.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- Hasher, L., & Zacks, R. (1988). Working memory, comprehension and aging: A review and a new view. In G. K. Bower (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation (pp. 192–225). New York, NY: Academic Press. doi: 10.1016/S0079-7421(08)60041-9.
- Konishi, K., Etchamendy, N., Roy, S., Marighetto, A., Rajah, N., & Bohbot, V. D. (2013). Decreased functional magnetic resonance imaging activity in the hippocampus in favor of the caudate nucleus in older adults tested in a virtual navigation task. Hippocampus, 23(11), 1005–1014. doi: 10.1002/hipo.22181.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Loomis, J. M., Klatzky, R. L., Golledge, R. G., Cicinelli, J. G., Pellegrino, J. W., & Fry, P. A. (1993). Nonvisual navigation by blind and sighted: Assessment of path integration ability. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 122(1), 73–91. doi: 10.1037/0096-34188.8.131.52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Madden, D. J., Whiting, W. L., & Huettel, S. A. (2010). Age-related changes in neural activity during visual perception and attention. In R. Cabeza, L. Nyberg, & D. Park (Eds.), Cognitive neuroscience of aging: Linking cognitive and cerebral aging (pp. 157–185). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Merriman, N. A. (2015). Assessing cognitive factors and individual differences that modulate spatial navigation ability in older adults [dissertation]. Trinity College, the University of Dublin.Google Scholar
- Nasreddine, Z. S., Phillips, N. A., Bédirian, V., Charbonneau, S., Whitehead, V., Collin, I., & Chertkow, H. (2005). The Montreal Cognitive Assessment, MoCA: a brief screening tool for mild cognitive impairment. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 53(4), 695–699. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2005.53221.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- O’Keefe, J., & Nadel, L. (1978). The hippocampus as a cognitive map. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Raz, N., Lindenberger, U., Rodrigue, K. M., Kennedy, K. M., Head, D., Williamson, A., & Acker, J. D. (2005). Regional brain changes in aging healthy adults: General trends, individual differences and modifiers. Cerebral Cortex, 15(November), 1676–1689. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhi044.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Reuter-Lorenz, P. A., & Sylvester, C. Y. C. (2010). The cognitive neuroscience of working memory and aging. In R. Cabeza, L. Nyberg, & D. Park (Eds.), Cognitive neuroscience of aging: Linking cognitive and cerebral aging (pp. 186–217). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Taillade, M., Sauzéon, H., Arvind Pala, P., Déjos, M., Larrue, F., Gross, C., & N’Kaoua, B. (2013a). Age-related wayfinding differences in real large-scale environments: Detrimental motor control effects during spatial learning are mediated by executive decline? PLoS ONE, 8(7), e67193. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067193.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- Taillade, M., Sauzéon, H., Déjos, M., Arvind Pala, P., Larrue, F., Wallet, G., & N’Kaoua, B. (2013b). Executive and memory correlates of age-related differences in wayfinding performances using a virtual reality application. Aging, Neuropsychology and Cognition, 20(3), 298–319. doi: 10.1080/13825585.2012.706247.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Trick, L. M., Toxopeus, R., & Wilson, D. (2010). The effects of visibility conditions, traffic density, and navigational challenge on speed compensation and driving performance in older adults. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 42(6), 1661–1671. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2010.04.005.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar