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Improving visual perceptual decision-making in an ageing population

Primary Supervisor: Dr Claire Hutchinson, Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour

Secondary supervisor: Doug Barrett, David Souto

PhD project title: Improving visual perceptual decision-making in an ageing population

University of Registration: University of Leicester

Project outline:

    Visual perceptual decision-making is fundamental to the brain’s ability to simultaneously process multiple sources of visual sensory information, evaluate potential options, and identify the most appropriate action, based on the information available and prior experience and expectations of the visual world. When visual perception is compromised, as is the case in old age [1, 2], the consequences are wide-reaching. With the older-adult (> 65 years) population estimated to rise to over 2 billion worldwide by 2050, understanding visual perception in older people represents a key cross-disciplinary challenge with direct consequences for gerontological research and practice.

    Visual attention is a cornerstone of visual perception. It refers to the cognitive mechanisms that allow us to efficiently weight relevant over irrelevant information. Impaired visual attention is well-documented in typical (healthy) aging and is a common manifestation of cerebral dysfunction. The resultant disability can be profound, even when basic sensory visual processing is unaffected, and cause significant disability in the execution of daily activities [3]. Finding ways to ameliorate the effects of age-related visual attentional decline in older age are therefore an important issue with direct benefits for the everyday lives of older people.

    In young adults, training with attention-based paradigms has been shown to improve visual perceptual performance across a range of tasks [4]. These findings have led to the notion of a reverse hierarchy of perceptual learning, whereby training on complex attention-based tasks leads to generalised learning in higher cortical areas, which influences perceptual cortical processing via ‘top-down’ feedback connections [5,6]. 

    Building upon these exciting findings in young adult populations, the objective of this PhD project is to determine the efficacy of attention-based training for improving key aspects of visual perceptual processing in older adults.

    During this project, the student will be trained in the latest skills and techniques in vision sciences in the domains of: (1) visual psychophysics, (2) eye-movement recording, (3) electroencephalography and (4) biological systems modeling.


    [1] Hutchinson, C.V., Arena, A., Allen, H.A., Ledgeway, T. (2012). Psychophysical correlates of global motion processing in the aging visual system: A critical review. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 36, 1266-1272.

    [2] Arena, A., Hutchinson, C.V., Shimozaki, S.S., Long, M.D. (2013). Visual discrimination in noise: behavioural correlates of age-related cortical decline. Behavioural Brain Research, 243, 102-108.

    [3] Das, M., Bennett, D. M., & Dutton, G. N. (2007). Visual attention as an important visual function: an outline of manifestations, diagnosis and management of impaired visual attention. The British Journal of Ophthalmology, 91:1556–1560.

    [4] Hutchinson, C.V., Barrett, D.J.K., Nitka, A., Raynes, K. (2016). Action video game training reduces the Simon Effect. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 23, 587-592.

    [5] Fahle, M. (2005). Perceptual learning: specificity versus generalization. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 15:154–160.

    [6] Ahissar, M. & Hochstein, S. (2004). The reverse hierarchy theory of visual perceptual learning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 8:457-64.

    BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Understanding the Rules of Life: Neuroscience and behaviour & Systems Biology & Integrated Understanding of Health: Ageing & Regenerative Biology

    Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

    The student will be trained in several multidisciplinary techniques including:

    • Visual psychophysics,
    • Eye-movement recording
    • Electroencephalography
    • Biological systems modeling

    Contact: Dr Claire Hutchinson, University of Leicester