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Validity of attention self-reports in younger and older adults


Arnicane, Andra; Oberauer, Klaus; Souza, Alessandra S (2020). Validity of attention self-reports in younger and older adults. Cognition, 206:104482.

Abstract

Human attention is subject to fluctuations. Mind-wandering (MW) - attending to thoughts unrelated to the current task demands - is considered a ubiquitous experience. According to the Control Failure x Concerns view (McVay & Kane, 2010), MW is curbed by executive control, and task-irrelevant thoughts enter consciousness due to attentional control lapses. The generation of off-task thoughts is assumed to increase with higher number of personal concerns. Challenging this view, older adults report less MW than younger adults. Here, we addressed the hypothesis that older adults report less MW due to a lower ability to notice attention lapses and to appraise their current on-task focus. In an age-comparative study (N = 40 younger and N = 44 older adults) using a battery of three tasks spanning working memory, reading comprehension, and sustained attention, we assessed the correlation between the degree of self-reported on-task focus and task performance on a trial-by-trial basis. Younger and older adults' degree of on-task attention measured through thought probes was correlated equally strongly with performance across trials in all tasks, indicating preserved ability to monitor attentional fluctuations in healthy aging. Self-reported current concerns' number and importance did not differ across age, and they did not predict self-reported attention across tasks. Our study shows that lower rates of MW in aging do not reflect lower validity of older adults' attentional appraisal or lower levels of current concerns.

Abstract

Human attention is subject to fluctuations. Mind-wandering (MW) - attending to thoughts unrelated to the current task demands - is considered a ubiquitous experience. According to the Control Failure x Concerns view (McVay & Kane, 2010), MW is curbed by executive control, and task-irrelevant thoughts enter consciousness due to attentional control lapses. The generation of off-task thoughts is assumed to increase with higher number of personal concerns. Challenging this view, older adults report less MW than younger adults. Here, we addressed the hypothesis that older adults report less MW due to a lower ability to notice attention lapses and to appraise their current on-task focus. In an age-comparative study (N = 40 younger and N = 44 older adults) using a battery of three tasks spanning working memory, reading comprehension, and sustained attention, we assessed the correlation between the degree of self-reported on-task focus and task performance on a trial-by-trial basis. Younger and older adults' degree of on-task attention measured through thought probes was correlated equally strongly with performance across trials in all tasks, indicating preserved ability to monitor attentional fluctuations in healthy aging. Self-reported current concerns' number and importance did not differ across age, and they did not predict self-reported attention across tasks. Our study shows that lower rates of MW in aging do not reflect lower validity of older adults' attentional appraisal or lower levels of current concerns.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
08 Research Priority Programs > Dynamics of Healthy Aging
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Language and Linguistics
Social Sciences & Humanities > Developmental and Educational Psychology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Linguistics and Language
Life Sciences > Cognitive Neuroscience
Language:English
Date:28 October 2020
Deposited On:12 Nov 2020 10:11
Last Modified:13 Nov 2020 21:00
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0010-0277
OA Status:Hybrid
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2020.104482
PubMed ID:33129051
Project Information:
  • : FunderVelux Foundation
  • : Grant ID1053
  • : Project Title

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