Contrast detection in different levels of external visual noise allows a given loss in contrast sensitivity to be attributed to either an increase in the internal noise of the visual system, a decrease in sampling efficiency, or both. Sampling efficiency indicates how effectively the available stimulus information is utilized by the visual system. The aim of this study is to investigate the effect of normal ageing on sampling efficiency and internal noise. Contrast thresholds for sine-wave gratings of 6 c/deg were measured in the presence of four (including zero) levels of externally added visual noise in young and older healthy observers. Results showed that sampling efficiencies were significantly lower for the older group compared to the younger, while the internal noise showed no significant change. The implications of the data for the relative contribution of the optical and neural systems on visual function loss with ageing are discussed. Our results suggest that the neural system plays a major role in the loss of contrast sensitivity with ageing in normal, healthy eyes.
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