Symposium: Aging
Friday, Sep 11, 2015
Hörsaal 3

Recovering from the sensory effects of auditory distraction: no difference between young and old adults

János Horváth, Márta Volosin, & Zsófia Anna Gaál

Research Centre for Natural Sciences, HAS, Budapest, Hungary

Numerous studies suggest that old adults might be more susceptible to distraction than young adults. The present study utilized the auditory N1 event-related potential (ERP) to assess potential age-related differences in the recovery time from distraction-related sensory processing changes. The N1 waveform is enhanced when the eliciting sound events are in the focus of the on-going perceptual task. It has also been shown that distraction – an involuntary attention change triggered by task-irrelevant, infrequent, unpredictable sounds - may “remove” this attentional enhancement for a brief (at least 150 ms, not longer than 650 ms) period of time after a distracter is presented. In the present study we utilized an auditory continuous-stimulation paradigm to assess the temporal characteristics of this distraction effect in young (19-26 years) and old adults (62-74 years). Participants listened to a continuous tone during the experiment and signaled the presence of occasional gaps by pressing a button. Infrequently, unpredictably, the pitch of the continuous tone changed in quick exponential glides. ERPs to gaps following such glides in 150 and 250 ms exhibited reduced N1-amplitudes in comparison to those elicited by gaps separated from glides by 650 ms or longer. Although N1 amplitudes were markedly lower for old adults, the proportional glide-gap separation-related N1-change did not differ between the two age groups. This suggests that the speed of recovery from the sensory effects of distraction is not affected by age.