A new study reveals that older people tend to be more easily distracted than younger adults.
In the study, researchers at the Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience showed 218 subjects aged 18-88 an edited version of an episode from the Hitchcock TV series while using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure their brain activity.
The researchers found a surprising degree of similarity in the thought patterns amongst the younger subjects, their brains tended to ‘light up’ in similar ways and at similar points in the programme.
On the other hand, in older subjects, this similarity tended to disappear and their thought processes became more idiosyncratic, suggesting that they were responding differently to what they were watching and were possibly more distracted.
The findings suggested that our ability to respond to everyday events in the environment differs with age, possibly due to altered patterns of attention.
Karen Campbell of the University of Cambridge said that as people age, their ability to control the focus of attention tends to decline, and they end up attending to more ‘distracting’ information than younger adults.
Campbell and colleagues argued that the variety in brain patterns seen amongst older people reflected a difference in their ability to control their attention, as attentional capture by stimuli in the environment was known to be relatively preserved with age.
Campbell said that there might be benefits to this distractibility.
The study is published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.