Supplementing its work on age-related changes in recognition memory, the lab has begun to study attentional influences on aging and visual memory. It's been long known that effective processing of visual information demands appropriate engagement of selective attention. To examine potential age-related changes in attention the lab has been using the demanding, multiple object tracking (MOT) paradigm. This task embodies key elements of sustained attention that is required by everyday activities, including driving. A trial in a typical MOT experiment begins with a computer display of 10 randomly-positioned, stationary identical objects.
During the trial's next phase, a subset of the 4 or 5 stationary objects are defined, by flashing or temporarily changing color, as the targets that will have to be tracked. During the trial's next phase, which lasts several seconds, all the identical objects move about randomly. When movement ceases, the subject tries to identify the objects that were to have been tracked. This task is demanding and, under many conditions, very difficult.
In contrast to most attentional tasks that might be used to study the cognitive effects of normal aging, MOT
  • requires continuous, sustained attention, not just brief bursts of attention
  • requires attention to several or many objects at once, not just attention that's focused on a single object at a time
  • is an inherently active process; and
  • allows us to examine visual processing under high attentional loads, and allows the load to be easily and directly varied.
Because MOT requires sustained attention throughout the entire movement period, momentary interruptions of attention can disrupt tracking. During the movement phase of a MOT trial, subjects sometimes have metamemorial experiences, that is, they claim to recognize when some tracked items has disappeared from memory.
Current research in the lab has been examining various aspects of MOT in young and older adults, focusing especially on metamemory.