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Socio-cognitive profiles for visual learning in young and older adults.

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Christian, Julie 
Goldstone, Aimee 
Kuai, Shu-Guang 
Chin, Wynne 
Abrams, Dominic 


It is common wisdom that practice makes perfect; but why do some adults learn better than others? Here, we investigate individuals' cognitive and social profiles to test which variables account for variability in learning ability across the lifespan. In particular, we focused on visual learning using tasks that test the ability to inhibit distractors and select task-relevant features. We tested the ability of young and older adults to improve through training in the discrimination of visual global forms embedded in a cluttered background. Further, we used a battery of cognitive tasks and psycho-social measures to examine which of these variables predict training-induced improvement in perceptual tasks and may account for individual variability in learning ability. Using partial least squares regression modeling, we show that visual learning is influenced by cognitive (i.e., cognitive inhibition, attention) and social (strategic and deep learning) factors rather than an individual's age alone. Further, our results show that independent of age, strong learners rely on cognitive factors such as attention, while weaker learners use more general cognitive strategies. Our findings suggest an important role for higher-cognitive circuits involving executive functions that contribute to our ability to improve in perceptual tasks after training across the lifespan.



cognitive abilities, individual differences, perceptual learning, psychophysics, social profiles, visual perception

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Front Aging Neurosci

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Frontiers Media SA
Leverhulme Trust (RF-2011-378)
European Commission (290011)
This work was supported by grants to ZK from the Leverhulme Trust [RF-2011- 378] and the [European Community’s] Seventh Framework Programme [FP7/2007-2013] under agreement PITN-GA-2011- 290011 and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council [D52199X,E027436].