The effects of aging on perception and cognition
The developed world is aging faster than ever before. Even in the absence of neurodegenerative disease, aging affects all kinds of human functions including perception and cognition. In most perceptual studies, one paradigm is tested and it is usually found that older participants perform worse than younger participants. Implicitly, these results are taken as evidence that there is one aging factor for each individual determining his/her overall performance levels. Here, we show that visual and cognitive functions age differently. We tested 131 older participants (mean age 70 years old) and 108 younger participants (mean age 22 years old) in 14 perceptual tests (including motion perception, contrast and orientation sensitivity, biological motion perception) and in 3 cognitive tasks (WCST, verbal fluency and digit span). Young participants performed better than older participants in almost all of the tests. However, within the older participants group, age did not predict performance, i.e., a participant could have good results in biological motion perception but poor results in orientation discrimination. It seems that there is not a single “aging” factor but many.