How Do Age Differences In Attention Affect Older Adults Interval Timing

Ideas from the information-processing models of interval timing described above can be combined with characterizations of older adults' attentional functioning to make predictions about older adults' interval timing performance. In particular, any manipulation that decreases the attention available to hold closed the "switch" that allows pulses to pass into the accumulator will cause a flickering of that switch and a loss of pulses, resulting in a slower clock. Older adults will typically be more vulnerable than young adults to such manipulations, which may include external, nontemporal distractions or ongoing tasks that draw attention away from timing, or the need to divide attention among multiple to-be-timed stimuli.

When considering how different attention manipulations may affect older adults' interval timing performance, it is important to consider whether they occur when the critical duration is being learned or during test trials (see Figure 10.2). This is the case because attention-related distortions in time perception occur when there is a difference in attention — and therefore clock speed — between training and test. If controlled attention demands are identical for training and test trials, age differences in interval timing performance may be small or nonexistent.

If controlled attention demands are greater when the duration is learned than when it is tested, older adults will tend to underreproduce that duration during test trials and overestimate the durations presented in test trials relative to the previously learned criterion. Conversely, if controlled attention demands are greater during test trials than during training, older adults will overreproduce the critical duration learned in training and tend to underestimate test durations relative to the critical duration. In many cases, young adults will show patterns that are in the same direction as older adults', but because young adults have better attentional control, the effects for them are much smaller than for older adults.

This section presents a simple framework for understanding older adults' interval timing performance across different situations. This framework is based on predicting how age differences in attention might affect the function of the information-processing models of interval timing that were previously discussed. The following sections summarize the extant literature on older adults' interval timing performance and the degree to which those findings fit into the organization suggested here.

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