Chang et al. (2014 Curr Biol) compare visual perceptual learning in young (19-30 year old) and older (65-79 year old) adults. The task (reporting two digits that were flashed in the center of a screen within a sequence of letters) was combined with a task-irrelevant feature (a moving-dot display around the visual periphery, with different levels of coherence in the motion of the dots). Training took place over eight days, with pretests and posttests on both the primary task (digit recall) and distractor task (coherent motion discrimination). If the task-irrelevant feature was sufficiently salient (above detection threshold), then the older subjects demonstrated visual perceptual learning of that motion. Younger subjects demonstrated no learning of this distractor stimulus. This indicates that they had managed to successfully filter it out while focusing on the primary task. At least in the visual system, older brains may be less able to stably encode memories in the presence of distracting stimuli.


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