We recently reported that refocusing attention between temporal and spatial tasks becomes more difficult with increasing age, which could impair daily activities such as driving (Callaghan et al., 2017). Here, we investigated the extent to which difficulties in refocusing attention extend to naturalistic settings such as simulated driving. A total of 118 participants in five age groups (18−30; 40−49; 50−59; 60−69; 70−91 years) were compared during continuous simulated driving, where they repeatedly switched from braking due to traffic ahead (a spatially focal yet temporally complex task) to reading a motorway road sign (a spatially more distributed task). Sequential-Task (switching) performance was compared to Single-Task performance (road sign only) to calculate age-related switch-costs. Electroencephalography was recorded in 34 participants (17 in the 18−30 and 17 in the 60+ years groups) to explore age-related changes in the neural oscillatory signatures of refocusing attention while driving. We indeed observed age-related impairments in attentional refocusing, evidenced by increased switch-costs in response times and by deficient modulation of theta and alpha frequencies. Our findings highlight virtual reality (VR) and Neuro-VR as important methodologies for future psychological and gerontological research.
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Funding: This research was supported by funding from The Rees Jeffreys Road Fund, the Royal Automobile Club Foundation, and the School of Life and Health Sciences, Aston University.
- Neural oscillations
- Simulated driving
- Switching costs