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Psychology (900)
PSYC 357 (50)
Chapter 6


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Simon Fraser University
PSYC 357
Wendy Thornton

CHAPTER SIX: BASIC COGNITIVE FUNCTIONS: INFORMATION PROCESSING, ATTENTION AND MEMORY INFORMATION PROCESSING Researchers within the information processing perspective regard the cognitive functioning of humans as comparable to the functioning of a computer Psychomotor Speed Theories about changes in the overall quality of information processing in adulthood are based on studies of psychomotor speed - Amount of time it takes to process a signal, prepare a response and then execute that response Why do reaction times slow as people ace? - General slowing hypothesis: the increase in reaction time reflects general decline of information processing speed within the nervous system of the aging individual o Derived through examinations of cross-sectional studies on reaction times o Reaction times of older adults plotted against that of younger adults on a graph called a brinley plot o Results: older adults perform at similar speeds on tasks completed relatively quick by young adults (500ms) but on tasks that take longer for young adults (1000ms), older adults take proportionately longer (1500-2000ms) - Age complexity hypothesis: proposes that through slowing of central processes in the nervous system, age differences increase as tasks become more complex and processing resources are stretched more and more to their limit Attention Attention involves the ability to focus or concentrate on a portion of experience while ignoring other features of that experience, to be able to shift that focus as demanded by the situation, and to be able to coordinate information from multiple sources Theories of Attention and Aging Attentional resources Inhibitory deficit hypothesis Context processing deficiency hypothesis theory - aging reduces available - aging reduces ability to tune - aging reduces the ability to take context into account cognitive resources (older out irrelevant information - proposes that older adults are particularly affected when adults have less energy - implies that older adults focus they must remember the task instructions because they have available) most effectively when fewer resources to devote to a task when they must distractions are minimized constantly remind themselves of when they are supposed to make their response * studies on aging and attentional performance suggest that not all abilities decline (ex: although older adults are slower when processing information from visual displays, they can remember the location of an item presented in the display and may even be more efficient at this than younger adults) * Performance on certain attentional tasks (ex: stroop task) can be improved with practice, regardless of age Types of Attentional Tasks Multitasking - Dividing the focus of attention between multiple items - Experiments that attempt to replicate this real-life situation use a dual task paradigm (also called a divided attention task), in which the individual is given information fro two input sources and must attend to both sources at once to identify a target - Most people are disadvantaged when it comes to multitasking and this disadvantage increases progressively with age - Older adults compensate for attentional deficits under multitasking conditions by shifting activation of regions of the brain involved in attentional processing (ex: reduce activity in frontal regions, responsible for planning, and increase activity in regions involved in the storage of visual and spatial information) Inhibitory Task - The individual must deliberately suppress one response in order to perform another - Purpose: to determine whether older adults are able to ignore aspects of a stimulus that are irrelevant - Best known example is the Stroop test, in which you are told to name the color of ink in which a word is printed  inhibitory part of this test is very difficult because you have to dissociate your reading of the word from your naming of the color Sustained Attention - Task requires individuals to be on guard for a change in a stimulus array - Older adults typically have greater difficulty than younger adults DRIVING AND AGING Changes in the visual system that can impair driving: - Loss of visual acuity - Increased sensitivity to glare - Difficulty seeing in the dark Driving involves rapid cognitive judgments - Given that reaction time is greater for older adults, they may be disadvantaged when they need to evaluate a complex situation in which they have to make a quick decision Data on crash rates - Highest fatality rates in the US are for 16-25 year olds - Rates of motor vehicle accidents among teen drivers 16-19 are four times the rates of accidents for drivers 65+ Risk factors contributing to high accident rates in younger drivers: - Driving at higher speeds - Failing to wear seat belts - Following too closely behind the vehicle in front - Tending to underestimate or not recognizing hazardous situations - More likely to drink - Distractions (texting, eating) Risk factors contributing to accidents in older drivers: - Crash at an intersection when making left hand turn - Tasks requiring high demand of visual attention such as merging, or yielding to oncoming traffic MEMORY Working memory - Part of memory that keeps information temporarily available and active - Researchers assess working memory by assigning a task to participants that prevents them from consciously rehearsing information they
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