Age-related changes in Bayesian belief updating during attentional deployment and motor intention

Predicting upcoming events using past observations is a crucial component of an efficient allocation of attentional resources. Therefore, the deployment of attention is sensitive to different types of cues predicting upcoming events. Here we investigated probabilistic inference abilities in spatial and feature-based attentional, as well as in motor-intentional subsystems, focusing specifically on the age-related changes in these abilities. In two behavioral experiments, younger and older adults (20 younger and 20 older adults for each experiment) performed three versions of a cueing paradigm, where spatial, feature, or motor cues predicted the location, color, or motor response of a target stimulus (Fig. 1). The percentage of cue validity (i.e., the probability of the cue being valid) changed over time, thereby creating a volatile environment. A Bayesian hierarchical model was used to estimate trial-wise beliefs concerning the cue validity from reaction times and to derive a subject-specific belief updating parameter ω in each task version. We also manipulated task difficulty: participants performed an easier version of the task in Experiment 1 and a more difficult version in Experiment 2.

Mengotti 2019
Figure 1. Experimental paradigm of Experiments 1 and 2.

Results from Experiment 1 suggested a preserved ability of older adults to use the three different cues to generate predictions. However, the increased task demands of Experiment 2 uncovered a difference in belief updating between the two age groups, indicating moderate evidence for a reduction of the ability to update predictions with motor intention cues in older adults (Fig. 2). These results point at a distinction of attentional and motor-intentional subsystems, with age-related differences tackling especially the motor-intentional subsystem.

Mengotti 2019
Figure 2. Results from the Bayesian hierarchical Model. Between-group comparison of the individual updating parameter omega for spatial attention, feature-based attention, and motor intention.


Mengotti, P., Kuhns, A.B., Fink, G.R., & Vossel, S. (2019). Age-related changes in Bayesian belief updating during attentional deployment and motor intention. Psychological Research. doi: 10.1007/s00426-019-01154-w

Correspondence to:

Paola Mengotti

Letzte Änderung: 25.03.2022