Focusing and switching attention in older age

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Description: Impairments in refreshing have been suggested as one source of working memory (WM) deficits in older age. Retro-cues provide an important method of investigating this question: a retro-cue guides attention to one WM item, thereby arguably refreshing it and increasing its accessibility compared to a no-cue baseline. In contrast to the refreshing deficit hypothesis, intact retro-cue benefits have been found in older adults. Refreshing, however, is assumed to boost not one but several WM representations when sequentially applied to them. Hence, intact refreshing requires the flexible switching of attention among WM items. So far, it remains an open question whether older adults show this flexibility. Here we investigated whether older adults can use multiple cues to sequentially refresh WM representations. Younger and older adults completed a continuous color delayed estimation task, in which the number of retro-cues (0, 1, or 2) presented during the retention interval was manipulated. The results showed a similar retro-cue benefit for younger and older adults, even in the two-cue condition in which participants had to switch attention between items to refresh representations in WM. These findings suggest that the capacity to use cues to refresh information in visual working memory may be preserved with age.

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