What is it about?

Normal aging is associated with changes in the visual pathway and brain. These impact performance across a range of visual tasks, including search (the ability to find a target among non-target objects in the scene). In everyday life, search is often informed by knowledge about the target’s features (i.e., the colour of your phone case or an icon on your screen), however, little is known about how ageing affects individuals’ use of this knowledge to maximise the speed and accuracy of search. In this study, we used cues to manipulate the availability of information about the target’s colour to compare the impact of prior information on selectivity of eye movements during search in young and older adults.

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Why is it important?

Visual search requires the integration of information in short-term memory and the visual scene. Ageing is associated with declines in the speed and accuracy of search, and it is important to understand the processes that affect older adults’ ability to use information in short-term memory to optimise the effectiveness of search. Eye movement recording provides moment-by-moment measures that can be used to identify age-related differences in processes that support the selection and evaluation of objects during search. Our results indicate older adults are less likely to use information about the target’s colour to restrict eye movements to the subset of objects most likely to contain the target during search. This decreases the selectivity of eye movements and increases the time taken to find the target in older compared to young adults.


Visual search is a fundamental ability that often appears effortless. Despite this appearance, efficient search requires the integration of different sources of information during the planning and execution of sequences of eye movements. Designing a study to investigate the effect of ageing on these complex interactions was interesting and enjoyable, and the results provide important insights into the way ageing affects individual’s ability to integrate information and coordinate eye movements to maximise the efficiency of search.

Doug Barrett
University of Leicester

We have shown that searching cluttered visual scenes to identify and select relevant information is more difficult for older people. We hope these findings will broaden understanding that older adults might encounter problems when navigating our increasingly visually-complex, digital world. For example, although effortless for the young, everyday tasks like buying a train ticket on a self-service ticket machine are likely to be much for challenging in older age.

Claire Hutchinson
University of the West of Scotland

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Age-related differences in saccadic indices of top–down guidance via short-term memory during visual search., Psychology and Aging, May 2024, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/pag0000825.
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