Previous research has shown that during visual search young and old adults' eye movements are equivalently influenced by the appearance of task-irrelevant abrupt onsets. The finding of age-equivalent oculomotor capture is quite surprising in light of the abundant research suggesting that older adults exhibit poorer inhibitory control than young adults on a variety of different tasks. In the present study, we examined the hypothesis that oculomotor capture is age invariant when subjects' awareness of the appearance of task-irrelevant onsets is low, but that older adults will have more difficulty than young adults in inhibiting reflexive eye movements to task-irrelevant onsets when awareness of these objects is high. Our results were consistent with the level-of-awareness hypothesis. Young and old adults showed equivalent patterns of oculomotor capture with equiluminant onsets, but older adults misdirected their eyes to bright onsets more often than young adults did.
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