Attentional decline plays a major role in cognitive changes with aging. However, which specific aspects of attention contribute to this decline is as yet little understood. To identify the contributions of various potential sources of age decrements in visual search, we combined response time measures with lateralized event-related potentials of younger and older adults performing a compound-search task, in which the target-defining dimension of a pop-out target (color/shape) and the response-critical target feature (vertical/horizontal stripes) varied independently across trials. Slower responses in older participants were associated with age differences in all analyzed event-related potentials from perception to response, indicating that behavioral slowing originates from multiple stages within the information-processing stream. Furthermore, analyses of carry-over effects from one trial to the next revealed repetition facilitation of the target-defining dimension and of the motor response—originating from preattentive perceptual and motor execution stages, respectively—to be independent of age. Critically, we demonstrated specific age deficits on intermediate processing stages when intertrial changes required more executively controlled processes, such as flexible stimulus-response (re-)mapping across trials.
Neurobiology of Aging, 2013, Vol 34, Issue 3, p. 973-985