Ageing and perceptual-based decision-making in traffic environments

  • James Stafford

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Successful navigation through our environment depends on selecting and controlling the appropriate course of action. According to ecological psychology, decisions on when and how we act is achieved through the detection of information specifying affordances; the fit between an actor’s action possibilities and their environment. As a result, errors in decision-making may derive from an unanticipated actualization of what the environment affords. While recent research has aimed to understand how changes in physical limitations of individuals influence their perception of what the environment affords them, little research has investigated how changes during life span influence sensitivity to specifying information, and how these may impact upon action decisions.

In a series of interlinking studies using virtual traffic environments, different age groups were investigated in their ability to: tune into action-relevant information in the optical array, use such information to guide both the choice of behaviour and the continuous guidance of action, and re-educate attention to specifying or non-specifying action information. Findings support the general assumption that ageing impacts the ability to tune into information which specifies whether a gap affords crossing or not and this extends beyond action selection to influence how an affordance is actualized.

Together, these studies provide evidence of age deterioration in the use of perceptual-based information that guides decisions about when and how to act. This suggests that to help prevent unintended injury, intervention strategies for older adults should focus on re-learning how to tune into and use information that specifies affordances in hazardous environments.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorCaroline Whyatt (Supervisor), Matthew Rodger (Supervisor) & Mihalis Doumas (Supervisor)


  • Affordances
  • traffic
  • decision-making
  • perceptual
  • information
  • Tau
  • ageing

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