PURPOSE: To explore the differential effects of age and eccentricity on the perception of motion at photopic and mesopic light levels.
METHODS: Thirty-six visually normal participants (18 younger; mean age 25 years, range: 20-31) and (18 older; mean age 70 years, range: 60-79) underwent two testing sessions, one at photopic and one at mesopic light levels. In each session, motion perception was tested binocularly at two eccentricities (centrally, and peripherally at 15° rightwards and 5° superior to the horizontal) for four motion tasks: minimum contrast of a drifting Gabor to identify motion direction (motion contrast); translational global motion coherence; biological motion embedded in noise and the minimum duration of a high-contrast Gabor to determine the direction of motion, using two Gabor sizes to measure spatial surround suppression of motion.
RESULTS: There was a significant main effect of light condition (higher thresholds in mesopic) for motion contrast (p < 0.001), translational global motion (p = 0.001) and biological motion (p < 0.001); a significant main effect of age (higher thresholds in older adults) for motion contrast (p < 0.001) and biological motion (p = 0.04) and a significant main effect of eccentricity (higher thresholds peripherally) for motion contrast (p < 0.001) and biological motion (p < 0.001). Additionally, we found a significant three-way interaction between light levels, age and eccentricity for translational global motion (similar increase in mesopic thresholds centrally for both groups, but a much larger deterioration in older adult's peripheral mesopic thresholds, p = 0.02). Finally, we found a two-way interaction between light condition and eccentricity for translational global motion (higher values in central mesopic relative to peripheral photopic, p = 0.001) and for biological motion (higher values in peripheral mesopic relative to central photopic, p < 0.001).
CONCLUSIONS: For the majority of tasks assessed, motion perception was reduced in mesopic relative to photopic conditions, to a similar extent in both age groups. However, because some older adults exhibited elevated thresholds even under photopic conditions, particularly in the periphery, the ability to detect mesopic moving stimuli even at high contrast was markedly impaired in some individuals. Our results imply age-related differences in the detection of peripheral moving stimuli at night that might impact hazard avoidance and night driving ability.