Visual Acuity does not Moderate Effect Sizes of Higher-Level Cognitive Tasks

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Quick Note

Thank you again to Lani Bennett and Dave Madden for their patience with this project that was several years in making!


Background: Declining visual capacities in older adults have been posited as a driving force behind adult age differences in higher-order cognitive functions (e.g., the “common cause” hypothesis of Lindenberger & Baltes, 1994). McGowan, Patterson and Jordan (2013) also found that a surprisingly large number of published cognitive aging studies failed to include adequate measures of visual acuity. However, a recent meta-analysis of three studies (LaFleur & Salthouse, 2014) failed to find evidence that visual acuity moderated or mediated age differences in higher-level cognitive processes. In order to provide a more extensive test of whether visual acuity moderates age differences in higher-level cognitive processes, we conducted a more extensive meta-analysis of topic.
Methods: Using results from 456 studies, we calculated effect sizes for the main effect of age across four cognitive domains (attention, executive function, memory, and perception/language) separately for five levels of visual acuity criteria (no criteria, undisclosed criteria, self-reported acuity, 20/80-20/31, and 20/30 or better).
Results: As expected, age had a significant effect on each cognitive domain. However, these age effects did not further differ as a function of visual acuity criteria.
Conclusion: The current meta-analytic, cross-sectional results suggest that visual acuity is not significantly related to age group differences in higher-level cognitive performance—thereby replicating LaFleur and Salthouse (2014). Further efforts are needed to determine whether other measures of visual functioning (e.g. contrast sensitivity, luminance) affect age differences in cognitive functioning. 


James R. Houston, Ilana J. Bennett, David, Philip A. Allen, David J. Madden


Experimental Aging Research