Let me ask you a question.. how much focused you are during your study time? Well, as a medical student you try your best to focus on what is written in the book and in making your own notes. You are not aware of your surroundings anymore. Someone comes nearby and calls you or sits just beside you but still your eyes are on those words and difficult medical terms of the diseases and syndromes and the drugs used to treat them. This is called Change blindness, a perceptual phenomenon that occurs when you don't notice a major change in the environment because you are too focused on one particular thing.
Let me give you another example. A young guy is standing in a long queue at a place while some people arrive from the opposite side. He starts staring on a cute little child who was looking at him too. They share smiles, and eye contact for several minutes while the mother carrying the child moves on. The guy just stands still there and is not aware of the surroundings when other people behind shout at him because he is not moving forward or letting them go. All of a sudden he realizes where he is and so walks ahead. This transient moment is the change blindness. :D
Note: Even maintaining an eye- contact with someone, even a child in this case may prove strenuous for the brain especially during reasoning and verbal processing and so is itself a distraction (distracting the young guy from the queue and instead focusing on that child). That is why we periodically avert our eyes during conversations.
During this particular moment this guy activated his visual association area (visual cortex) while looking at that child which meant he was just paying attention to the perceptual details (the depth of eyes of that child, cuteness, innocence, love).
On the other hand, the older adults may notice changes and patterns happening around while doing a particular task as well. Reduced focus (mental distractions) in the aging brain is responsible for the abstract thinking in them that is needed for problem solving and creative work.
In other words, the healthy aging people show thinking patterns that allow them to make connections among pieces of information that are right in front of them as well as information they have have encountered in the past. For example, an older adult involved in a conversation might pick up information on current road conditions from a television nearby, whereas a younger adult might be paying a closer attention to the conversation itself. Later on, the older adult might make use of the information from the TV broadcast while planning a route home.
The study suggests that older adults tend to have more focused attention in the morning and more of the abstract thinking later in the day. College students on the other hand tend to have their peak attention in the afternoon or evening and are less focused in mornings.
Inability to remember details of major events or just the location of objects begins in early midlife (the 40s) which does not mean the brain function is deteriorating, instead it may be the result of the changing focus of brain on the particular information during the process of memory formation and its retrieval. The experiments on this study have concluded that the middle- aged and older adults don't really show the same level of visual cortex activation as the young do when they recall the information. Instead, their medial prefrontal cortex is activated, a part of the brain that is involved in learning associations between events and the corresponding adaptive responses. The mPFC likely relies on the hippocampus to support rapid learning and memory consolidation.
- Jaskunwar Singh