Judging the timing of sight and sound: differences between older and younger adults

Our environment often contains visual and auditory information originating from separate events. Our brains need to be able to combine related sensory information coming from the same event and separate unrelated information from different events. One of the few common approaches to investigate such behaviour in human observers is known as audiovisual synchrony judgement: visual and auditory stimuli are presented at the same time or at some time offset from each other. Observers judge whether each stimulus pair is perceived as occurring at the same time (synchronous) or at different times (asynchronous). Previous work in our lab has shown that older adults are more likely to perceive asynchronous pairs as synchronous – i.e. older adults are more likely to incorrectly combine unrelated sensory information. How then does this reflect in the underlying brain processes involved in multisensory combination?

In this newly published study, we evaluated the impact of healthy ageing on the brain processes underlying audiovisual synchrony judgement using electroencephalography (EEG). EEG is used to measure brain activity in response to a stimulus (in this case, visual and auditory information). In the particular task used in this study, older and younger adults performed the same perceptually, but older adults recruited more widespread brain areas (specifically fronto-polar and frontal regions) to maintain the similar level of performance (see Figure 1 below).

 

AV_EEG_schematic

Figure 1: EEG activity indicating more widespread brain areas recruited by the older adults (bottom panel) to perform the audiovisual synchrony judgement task for synchronous pairs as compared to younger adults (top panel). A similar finding was also found for asynchronous audiovisual pairs (see published paper for details). Figure adapted from Figures 3 and 4 of Chan, Pianta, Bode & McKendrick (2017).

 

This work has been published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging (click here to view the abstract). A full copy of the paper can be requested by contacting Allison at allisonm@unimelb.edu.au

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