The impact of perceptual complexity on road crossing decisions in younger and older adults

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Scientific Reports


Cognitive abilities decline with healthy ageing which can have a critical impact on day-to-day activities. One example is road crossing where older adults (OAs) disproportionally fall victim to pedestrian accidents. The current research examined two virtual reality experiments that investigated how the complexity of the road crossing situation impacts OAs (N = 19, ages 65–85) and younger adults (YAs, N = 34, ages 18–24) with a range of executive functioning abilities (EFs). Overall, we found that OAs were able to make safe crossing decisions, and were more cautious than YAs. This continued to be the case in high cognitive load situations. In these situations, safe decisions were associated with an increase in head movements for participants with poorer attention switching than participants with better attention switching suggesting these groups developed compensation strategies to continue to make safe decisions. In situations where participants had less time to make a crossing decision all participants had difficulties making safe crossing decisions which was amplified for OAs and participants with poorer EFs. Our findings suggest more effort should be taken to ensure that road crossing points are clear of visual obstructions and more speed limits should be placed around retirement or care homes, neither of which are legislated for in the UK and Australia.

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