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Age-related changes in visual encoding strategy preferences during a spatial memory task

Segen, Vladislava, Wiener, Jan and Slattery, Tim (2020) Age-related changes in visual encoding strategy preferences during a spatial memory task.
Ageing is associated with declines in spatial memory, however, the source of these deficits remains unclear. Here we used eye-tracking to investigate age-related differences in spatial encoding strategies and the cognitive processes underlying the age-related deficits in spatial memory tasks. To do so we asked young and older participants to encode the locations of objects in a virtual room shown as a picture on a computer screen. The availability and utility of room-based landmarks were manipulated by removing landmarks, presenting identical landmarks rendering them uninformative, or by presenting unique landmarks that could be used to encode object locations. In the test phase, participants viewed a second picture of the same room taken from the same (0°) or a different perspective (30°) and judged whether the objects occupied the same or different locations in the room. We found that the introduction of a perspective shift and swapping of objects between encoding and testing impaired performance in both age groups. Furthermore, our results revealed that although older adults performed the task as well as younger participants, they relied on different visual encoding strategies to solve the task. Specifically, gaze analysis revealed that older adults showed a greater preference towards a more categorical encoding strategy in which they formed relationships between objects and landmarks.
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