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The modulation of visual orienting reflexes across the lifespan


Address for correspondence: Grace Iarocci, Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia, V5A 1S6, Canada; e-mail:


The development of reflexive and voluntary shifts of visual attention, as well as relations between the two forms of shifting, were examined in three groups of children (5, 7, and 9 years old), one group of young adults (24 years old), and two groups of senior adults (young seniors with an average age of 69 years, and old seniors with an average age of 81 years). The task entailed response to the detection of a target (black dot) in one of four possible locations in the visual field. Relations between reflexive and voluntary shifts of attention were gauged by the degree to which flash and arrow facilitation and inhibition were observed in response to the presentation of both arrow and flash cues together in one trial. All age groups oriented reflexively in response to a flash cue and utilized the arrow cue to orient attention strategically. When flash and arrow cues were presented in quick succession and thereby competed for attention, the youngest children and oldest seniors were least efficient and flexible in their approach to the orienting task as they had difficulty modulating visual reflexes.

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