In general, young adults with normal vision show the best visual search performance when compared with children and older adults. Through our study, we show that this trend is not observed in individuals with vision impairment. An interaction effect of vision impairment with visual development and aging is observed.
Performance in many visual tasks typically shows improvement with age until young adulthood and then declines with aging. Using a visual search task, this study investigated whether a similar age effect on performance is present in people with central vision loss.
A total of 98 participants, 37 with normal sight (NS) and 61 with visual impairment (VI) searched for targets in 150 real-world digital images. Search performance was quantified by an integrated measure combining speed and accuracy. Participant ages ranged from 5 to 74 years, visual acuity from −0.14 (20/14.5) to 1.16 logMAR (20/290), and log contrast sensitivity (CS) from 0.48 to 2.0. Data analysis was performed with participants divided into three age groups: children (aged <14 years, n = 25), young adults (aged 14 to 45 years, n = 47), and older adults (aged >45 years, n = 26).
Regression (r2 = 0.7) revealed CS (P < .001) and age (P = .003) were significant predictors of search performance. Performance of VI participants was normalized to the age-matched average performance of the NS group. In the VI group, it was found that children's normalized performance (52%) was better than both young (39%, P = .05) and older (40%, P = .048) adults.
Unlike NS participants, young adults in the VI group may not have search ability superior to children with VI, despite having the same level of visual functions (quantified by visual acuity and CS). This could be because of vision impairment limiting the developmental acquisition of the age dividend for peak performance. Older adults in the VI group had the worst performance, indicating an interaction of aging.