Orientation perception is a fundamental property of the visual system and an important basic processing stage for visual scene perception. Neurophysiological studies have found broader tuning curves and increased noise in orientation-selective neurons of senescent monkeys and cats, results that suggest an age-related decline in orientation perception. However, behavioral studies in humans have found no evidence for such decline, with performance being comparable for younger and older participants in orientation detection and discrimination tasks. Crucially, previous behavioral studies assessed performance for cardinal orientation only, and it is well known that the human visual system prefers cardinal over oblique orientations, a phenomenon called the oblique effect. We hypothesized that age-related changes depend on the orientation tested. In two experiments, we investigated orientation discrimination and reproduction for a large range of cardinal and oblique orientations in younger and older adults. We found substantial age-related decline for oblique but not for cardinal orientations, thus demonstrating that orientation perception selectively declines for oblique orientations. Taken together, our results serve as the missing link between previous neurophysiological and human behavioral studies on orientation perception in healthy aging.
The authors thank Malwina Filipczuk, Leah Hillari, and Jacqueline Von Seth for their help with data collection.
Supported by The Rank Prize Funds (JMA, KSP).