London: Older people tend to be more easily distracted than younger adults, a study has found, suggesting that young people respond in a similar way to events but as they age, their thought patterns diverge.
As we age, our ability to control the focus of attention tends to decline and we end up attending to more "distracting" information than younger adults.
"As a result, older adults end up attending to a more diverse range of stimuli and so are more likely to understand and interpret everyday events in different ways than younger people," said Dr Karen Campbell from the department of psychology from University of Cambridge.
To try to understand how we respond to complex, life-like stimuli, researchers showed 218 participants, aged 18-88, an edited version of an episode from the Alfred Hitchcock TV series while using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure their brain activity.
The researchers found a surprising degree of similarity in the thought patterns amongst the younger subjects.
Their brains tended to "light up" in similar ways and at similar points in the programme.
However, in older subjects, this similarity tended to disappear and their thought processes became more idiosyncratic, suggesting that they were responding differently to what they were watching and were possibly more distracted.
The results say our ability to respond to everyday events in the environment differs with age, possibly due to altered patterns of attention.
The variety in brain patterns seen amongst older people reflects a difference in their ability to control their attention.
This supports previous research which shows that older adults respond to and better remember materials with emotional content.
The study appeared in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.