An article published this week in the Psychological Bulletin, and one still to come in Psychology and Aging. For most starting PhD students it’s something to dream of – but not for Maria de Sousa Guerreiro, researcher at the Department of Neuropsychology and Psychopharmacology.
The rejection rate is 73%, which means that only 27% of the articles submitted will end up being published. The impact factor of Psychological Bulletin is almost 12.9. According to Pascal van Gerven, assistant professor and Maria de Sousa Guerreiro’s supervisor: “A lot of senior researchers are really happy if they can publish in this journal just once during their career. It’s extraordinary that Maria, as a second-year PhD student, has got her work published. I think it’s because of a special combination of talent: she is extremely smart, works hard, is creative and can write very well.” “And the supervision is good”, adds Portugal-born De Sousa Guerreiro.
Her research revolves around ageing and the ability to focus on relevant information and ignore irrelevant information. For example: making a phone call and ignoring the sound of the radio, or surfing on the internet and ignoring an advertisement that pops up.
De Sousa Guerreiro discovered that elderly people – those above sixty – have more problems ignoring information when both impressions have the same source: auditive or visual. “The distraction is even greater when an elderly person has to deal with two impressions in the visual modality. It’s harder to filter out visual information than information that reaches you through the ear.
“When we are driving (visual task) and speaking on a cell phone (auditory task), there is also cognitive interference. However, this interference might not be higher for older adults – because they are equally able to ignore irrelevant auditory information during a visual task as their younger counterparts.”
So what do her results mean for our daily life? “Nowadays we live in an information world. I think this research can give the industry useful information. Think about the creators of the GPS in cars. Driving a car and looking for the right route are both visual acts. Knowing that elderly people have concentration problems in these kinds of situations should help them to improve GPS systems.”