The present study provides a meta-analytic assessment of how gaze-cued attention – a core social-cognitive process – is influenced by normal adult ageing.
A multi-level meta-analysis of standardized mean changes was conducted on gaze-cueing effects. Age effects were quantified as standardized mean differences in gaze-cueing effect sizes between young and older adult samples.
We identified 82 gaze-cueing effects (k = 26, N = 919 participants). Of these, 37 were associated with young adults (k = 12, n = 438) and 45 with older adults (k = 14, n = 481). Relative to younger adults, older adults had a reduced gaze-cueing effect overall, g = -0.59, with this age effect greater when the cues were predictive, g = -3.24, rather than nonpredictive, g = -0.78.
These results provide the clearest evidence to date that adult ageing is associated with a reduction in gaze-cued attention. The results also speak to potential mechanisms of this age effect. In line with cognitive decline models of ageing, it was demonstrated that when gaze cues were predictive, only younger adults seem to benefit, suggesting that older adults exhibit a particularly reduced capacity to use gaze cues volitionally.