Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear: How Older Adults Gauge Distance

Over the years, research has demonstrated that human perception is never quite as simple as it appears. For example, we know data taken in through the human eye interacts with the brain to fill in missing information about the scenery in our environment. Furthermore, we also know from prior perception research that the distance we are located from an object can appear farther or closer depending on our perspective in relation to that object.

But what of visual memories? And how, if at all, might that mold what we see or don’t? Finally, do older adults, who are visually tenured perceivers, see things in a dissimilar manner from their less seasoned counterparts (i.e., younger adults)?

In a recent study, scholars set out to test a portion of the tenured perception question. They hypothesized that older adults would use more stored information than younger adults to determine the distance between objects presented to them and their bodies.

This study entailed collecting distance judgments from participants both younger (age 18 to 24) and older (age 65 to 90). Some in each age group were shown a 20-second preview of the testing room prior a glimpse of a yellow block; a control group did not get a preview. The glimpse involved blindfolding participants, leading them into a blackened room, flashing light so that they could see the block that had been placed a pre-specified distance from them, and then having a researcher escort them out of the room to answer questions about their perceived distance from the block.

Preliminary analyses suggest there may be a statistically significant difference between how much older adults rely on memory when it comes to gauging an object’s distance.  In point of fact, the true difference in the way older and younger adults perceive egocentric distance may be larger or smaller if the relationship between this type of perception and age is not linear, as the authors’ analyses assume the relationship to be. As always, future research should ensue.


Wallin CP, Gajewski DA, Teplitz RW, et al. The roles for prior visual experience and age on extraction of egocentric distance. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences. (2017). DOI: 10.1093/geronb/gbw089

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