Visual perception is constructive in nature; that is, a coherent whole is generated from ambiguous fragments that are encountered in dynamic visual scenes. Creating this coherent whole from fragmented sensory inputs requires one to detect, identify, distinguish and organize sensory input. The organization of fragments into a coherent whole is facilitated by the continuous interactions between lower level sensory inputs and higher order processes. However, age-related declines are found in both neural structures and cognitive processes (e.g., attention and inhibition). The impact of these declines on the constructive nature of visual processing was the focus of this study. Here we asked younger adults, young-old (65–79 years), and old-old adults (80+ years) to view a multistable figure (i.e.
, Necker cube) under four conditions (free, priming, volition, and adaptation) and report, via a button press, when percepts spontaneously changed. The oldest-olds, unlike young-olds and younger adults, were influenced by priming, had less visual stability during volition and showed less ability to adapt to multistable stimuli. These results suggest that the ability to construct a coherent whole from fragments declines with age. More specifically, vision is constructed differently in the old-olds, which might influence environmental interpretations and navigational abilities in this age group.
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