Age trends for failures of sustained attention

Jonathan S A Carriere, J Allan Cheyne, Grayden J F Solman, Daniel Smilek
Psychology and Aging 2010, 25 (3): 569-74
Recent research has revealed an age-related reduction in errors in a sustained attention task, suggesting that sustained attention abilities improve with age. Such results seem paradoxical in light of the well-documented age-related declines in cognitive performance. In the present study, performance on the sustained attention to response task (SART) was assessed in a supplemented archival sample of 638 individuals between 14 and 77 years old. SART errors and response speed appeared to decline in a linear fashion as a function of age throughout the age span studied. In contrast, other measures of sustained attention (reaction time coefficient of variation), anticipation, and omissions) showed a decrease early in life and then remained unchanged for the rest of the life span. Thus, sustained attention shows improvements with maturation in early adulthood but then does not change with aging in older adults. On the other hand, aging across the entire life span leads to a more strategic (i.e., slower) response style that reduces the overt and critical consequences (i.e., SART errors) of momentary task disengagement.

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