Normal and abnormal differences in sustained visual attention have long been of interest to scientists, educators, and clinicians. Still lacking, however, is a clear understanding of how sustained visual attention varies across the broad sweep of the human life span. In the present study, we filled this gap in two ways. First, using an unprecedentedly large 10,430-person sample, we modeled age-related differences with substantially greater precision than have prior efforts. Second, using the recently developed gradual-onset continuous performance test (gradCPT), we parsed sustained-attention performance over the life span into its ability and strategy components. We found that after the age of 15 years, the strategy and ability trajectories saliently diverge. Strategy becomes monotonically more conservative with age, whereas ability peaks in the early 40s and is followed by a gradual decline in older adults. These observed life-span trajectories for sustained attention are distinct from results of other life-span studies focusing on fluid and crystallized intelligence.
Source: Association for Psychological Science