Age differences in the perception of goal structure in everyday activity.

Human activity is structured by goals and subgoals. To understand an everyday activity, a viewer must perceive its goal structure, and viewers may segment activity into units that correspond to perceived goals. In this study, we examined age differences in the ability to perceive hierarchical goal structure in ongoing activity. A group of younger and older adults viewed short movies of an actor doing everyday activities, segmented them into events, and described the events as they segmented. We investigated how participants’ event descriptions were related to the hierarchical goal structure, and whether participants’ event segmentation was related to moment-by-moment changes in actor goals. We found that both coarse and fine event segmentation behavior was related to changes in the goal hierarchy. Descriptions of coarse-grained events were more likely to contain information about higher level goals, and descriptions of fine-grained events were more likely to mention lower level goals. Critically, in both segmentation behavior and event descriptions, younger adults showed these effects more strongly than older adults. These results show that event segmentation recovers the hierarchical goal structure of events, and that older adults may have difficulty perceiving that structure. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)