Mareschal and his colleagues argue that cognition consists of partial representations emerging from organismic constraints placed on information processing through development. However, any notion of constraints must consider multiple sensory modalities, and their gradual integration across development. Multisensory integration constitutes one important way in which developmental constraints may lead to enriched representations that serve more than immediate behavioural goals.
The ability to resist distracting stimuli whilst voluntarily focusing on a task is fundamental to our everyday cognitive functioning. Here, we investigated how this ability develops, and thereafter declines, across the lifespan using a single task/experiment. Young children (5–7 years), older children (10–11 years), young adults (20–27 years), and older adults (62–86 years) were presented with complex visual scenes. Endogenous (voluntary) attention was engaged by having the participants search for a visual target presented on either the left or right side (...) of the display. The onset of the visual scenes was preceded – at stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs) of 50, 200, or 500 ms – by a task-irrelevant sound (an exogenous crossmodal spatial distractor) delivered either on the same or opposite side as the visual target, or simultaneously on both sides (cued, uncued, or neutral trials, respectively). Age-related differences were revealed, especially in the extreme age-groups, which showed a greater impact of crossmodal spatial distractors. Young children were highly susceptible to exogenous spatial distraction at the shortest SOA (50 ms), whereas older adults were distracted at all SOAs, showing significant exogenous capture effects during the visual search task. By contrast, older children and young adults' search performance was not significantly affected by crossmodal spatial distraction. Overall, these findings present a detailed picture of the developmental trajectory of endogenous resistance to crossmodal spatial distraction from childhood to old age and demonstrate a different efficiency in coping with distraction across the four age-groups studied. (shrink)