Aging of sensorimotor processes: a systematic study in Fitts' task


  • Temprado Jean-Jacques
  • Sleimen-Malkoun Rita
  • Lemaire Patrick
  • Rey-Robert Benoit
  • Retornaz Frédérique
  • Berton Eric

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Though age-related decrease in information-processing capacities is hypothesized to be a prominent cause of behavioral slowing, it has been scarcely systematically studied in goal-directed motor tasks. The present study investigated how the decrease in information processing affects the sensorimotor processes underlying the control of a discrete Fitts' task. The index of difficulty (ID) of the task was manipulated using changes in either target distance (D) or target width (W). In each manipulation, movement (MTs), acceleration (ATs) and deceleration times (DTs) of young and older participants were compared across eight ID levels. They were analyzed with efficiency functions, state traces and Brinley plots. Our results showed that older participants were always slower. However, in both age groups, MTs were longer in D manipulation, which resulted from a slowing of both ATs and DTs, while W manipulation affected mainly DTs. In D manipulation, equivalent age-related slowing ratios were observed for AT and DT (1.3). In W manipulation, ATs of older participants were additively slower than those of young participants. Conversely, DTs presented a multiplicative slowing ratio of 1.3. These findings showed that ID manipulations differentially loaded information processing in the nervous system and that age-related slowing of multisensory control processes was independent of the manipulated dimension. Nevertheless, ID manipulations revealed different age-related adaptations to task constraints, suggesting that D and W manipulations are complementary means to assess age-related slowing of the processes involved in target-directed rapid-aiming tasks, with D scaling being more specific to capture the slowing of force-impulse control.

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