Crossmodal spatial distraction across the lifespan

Tiziana Pedale, Serena Mastroberardino, Michele Capurso, Andrew J. Bremner, Charles Spence, Valerio Santangelo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104617
Number of pages10
Early online date6 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank the children, the teachers and the school principal of the “Istituto Comprensivo Perugia 7”, San Sisto, Perugia (Italy), as well as the hosts of elderly centers “G. Balducci”, “Maria Immacolata Gerini”, and “Le Fonti”, Umbertide, Perugia (Italy), who agreed to take part in the research. This study was supported by a Basic Research Grant (“Fondo Ricerca di Base 2017”) awarded by the University of Perugia to V. S. and M. C. The funding source had no involvement in the study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier B.V.


  • Cognitive development
  • Complex scenes
  • Crossmodal spatial attention
  • Stimulus onset asynchrony
  • Visual search
  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Attention
  • Child, Preschool
  • Reaction Time
  • Longevity
  • Young Adult
  • Adolescent
  • Aged
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Child

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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