Aging increases distraction by auditory oddballs in visual, but not auditory tasks
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Aging is typically considered to bring a reduction of the ability to resist distraction by task-irrelevant stimuli. Yet recent work suggests that this conclusion must be qualified and that the effect of aging is mitigated by whether irrelevant and target stimuli emanate from the same modalities or from distinct ones. Some studies suggest that aging is especially sensitive to distraction within-modality while others suggest it is greater across modalities. Here we report the first study to measure the effect of aging on deviance distraction in cross-modal (auditory–visual) and uni-modal (auditory–auditory) oddball tasks. Young and older adults were asked to judge the parity of target digits (auditory or visual in distinct blocks of trials), each preceded by a task-irrelevant sound (the same tone on most trials—the standard sound—or, on rare and unpredictable trials, a burst of white noise—the deviant sound). Deviant sounds yielded distraction (longer response times relative to standard sounds) in both tasks and age groups. However, an age-related increase in distraction was observed in the cross-modal task and not in the uni-modal task. We argue that aging might affect processes involved in the switching of attention across modalities and speculate that this may due to the slowing of this type of attentional shift or a reduction in cognitive control required to re-orient attention toward the target’s modality.
This research was supported by a research Grant (PSI-2009-08427) and Plan E from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, the Campus of International Excellence Program from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, and a Ramón y Cajal Fellowship (RYC-2007-00701), all awarded to Fabrice Parmentier; as well as a F. P. U. fellowship (AP2010-0021) from the Spanish Ministry of Education awarded to Alicia Leiva, and a research Grant (PSI2010-21609-C02-02) from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation awarded to Pilar Andrés.
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