Developmental differences across the lifespan in the use of perceptual information to guide action-based decisions
Martin, Luis Gomez-Jordana
Perceptual information about unfolding events is important for guiding decisions about when and how to move in real-world action situations. As an exemplary case, road-crossing is a perceptual-motor task where age has been shown to be a strong predictor of risk due to errors in action-based decisions. The present study investigated age differences between three age groups (Children: 10–12 years old; Adults: 19–39 years old; Older Adults: 65 + year olds) in the use of perceptual information for selection, timing, and control of action when crossing a two-way street in an immersive, interactive virtual reality environment. Adults and children selected gaps to cross that were consistent with the use of a time-based information variable (tau), whereas older adults tuned less into the time-based variable (tau) to guide road-crossing decisions. For action initiation and control, children and adults also showed a strong ability to precisely time their entry with respect to the lead vehicle maximising the available time to cross and coordinating walking movements with the tail vehicle to ensure they were not on a collision course. In contrast, older adults delayed action initiation and showed difficulty coordinating self-movement with the approaching vehicle. This study and its results tie together age-based differences in the three components of action decision-making (selection, timing and control) within a unified framework based on perceptual information. The implications of these age-related differences in action decisions and crossing behaviours are discussed in the context of road safety.