Close your eyes and imagine being at Times Square, NYC… Too far? Let’s try again… Imagine being in Chinatown here in Melbourne… People everywhere… Light signals… A tram ringing the bell because everyone just wants to keep moving… The funky bunny playing the bass….There is an overwhelming amount of visual and auditory signals bombarding us in the bustling city we live in. To respond appropriately to each event that is presented we need to accurately perceive these events.
However, older people sometimes complain of confusion in crowded environments. We think that this may be because older people are more likely to combine unrelated sights and sounds into a single event in time.
Our study conducted by Janet, PhD student (below), measured audiovisual synchrony judgements in a group of young and older adults by presenting visual and auditory signals. We made sure that the signals were able to be seen and heard. Participants chose whether the signals appeared at the same time (synchronous) or at different times (offset). By testing across a range of temporal offsets, we found that the older group was more likely to perceive offset pairs as occurring at the same time. This age effect was not because of difficulty in seeing or hearing the signals, nor because of criterion bias. These findings support our original hypothesis and can help explain why the chaotic sights and sounds of Chinatown might create more confusion for older people!
This work has been published in the Journal of Vision. You can read it here: