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Good news: training helps in the real world as we age…

January 2, 2011

In the real world, when trying to find your car in the car park, or a particular spoon in the cutlery drawer, or when driving and trying to detect street signs partially hidden,  it is critical that our visual searching system remains efficient as we age.

Training our visual searching system: can we improve?

Scientists assess our visual capacity as we age by setting up a  “camouflage search task” in the lab. This entails finding some objects that blend in with their surrounding environment. Below is an example from the study by Neider, Boot and Kramer (2010)

Training: older adults slower but make large improvements

Younger people trained to search for camouflaged objects do improve with training and the ability transfers to similar search tasks and novel objects.

Older people. Although older adults were slower to locate the target compared to younger adults, finding camouflaged objects was amenable to training. In the lab it needed only three training sessions for older adults to have large improvements in response time and accuracy! Although younger adults also improved, older adults enjoyed larger training benefits. Specifically, older adults showed a 102% improvement in search efficiency ; younger adults exhibited a similar, but smaller improvement (19%). All participants improved substantially with training and were also able to maintain their improvement in new situations.

This suggests that by being trained we are learning a general skill that is important for searching under conditions of high target–background similarity (a fancy way of saying finding a particular spoon in a drawer full of spoons, or a signpost at a busy intersection!)

Improvements in attention and target recognition

Camouflage training benefits for older adults appear to be related to improvements in attentional guidance and target recognition rather than a more efficient search strategy.

I suggest that the Posit Science Insight program is a great place to start training for older people…..

Camouflaged task (Neider et al 2010)

Camouflaged birds: Posit Science Insight

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