Research studying attention and gait stability has suggested the process of recovering gait stability requires attentional resources, but the effect of performing a secondary task on stability during obstacle avoidance is poorly understood. Using a dual-task paradigm, the present experiment investigated the extent to which young adults are able to respond to a secondary auditory Stroop task (requiring executive attentional network resources) concurrently with obstacle crossing during gait as compared to performing unobstructed walking or sitting (control task). Our results demonstrated that as the level of difficulty in the postural task increased, there was a significant reduction in verbal response time from congruent to incongruent conditions in the Stroop task, but no differences in gait parameters, indicating that these postural tasks require attention, and that young adults use a strategy of modulating the auditory Stroop task performance while keeping stable gait performance under the dual-task situations. Our findings suggest the existence of a hierarchy of control within both postural task (obstacle avoidance requires the most information processing resources) and dual-task (with gait stability being a priority) conditions.
A growing body of literature provides evidence for the prophylactic influence of cardiorespiratory fitness on cognitive decline in older adults. This study examined the association between cardiorespiratory fitness and recruitment of the neural circuits involved in an attentional control task in a group of healthy older adults. Employing a version of the Stroop task, we examined whether higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness were associated with an increase in activation in cortical regions responsible for imposing attentional control along with an up-regulation of activity in sensory brain regions that process task-relevant representations. Higher fitness levels were associated with better behavioral performance and an increase in the recruitment of prefrontal and parietal cortices in the most challenging condition, thus providing evidence that cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with an increase in the recruitment of the anterior processing regions. There was a top-down modulation of extrastriate visual areas that process both task-relevant and task-irrelevant attributes relative to the baseline. However, fitness was not associated with differential activation in the posterior processing regions, suggesting that fitness enhances attentional function by primarily influencing the neural circuitry of anterior cortical regions. This study provides novel evidence of a differential association of fitness with anterior and posterior brain regions, shedding further light onto the neural changes accompanying cardiorespiratory fitness.
cardiorespiratory fitness; Stroop task; cognitive and attentional control
According to the conflict monitoring model of cognitive control, reaction time (RT) in distracter interference tasks (e.g., the Stroop task) is a more precise index of response conflict than stimulus congruency (incongruent vs. congruent). The model therefore predicts that RT should be a reliable predictor of activity in regions of the posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC) that are posited to detect response conflict. In particular, pMFC activity should be (a) greater in slow-RT than in fast-RT trials within a given task condition (e.g., congruent) and (b) equivalent in RT-matched trials from different conditions (i.e., congruent and incongruent trials). Both of these effects have been observed in functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies of adults. However, neither effect was observed in a recent study of healthy youth, suggesting that (a) the model does not accurately describe the relationship between RT and pMFC activity in this population or (b) the recent study was characterized by high variability due to a relatively small sample size. To distinguish between these possibilities, we asked a relatively large group of healthy youth (n = 28) to perform a distracter interference task - the multi-source interference task (MSIT) - while we recorded their brain activity with functional MRI. In this relatively large sample, both of the model’s predictions were confirmed. We conclude that the model accurately describes the relationship between pMFC activity and RT in healthy youth, but that additional research is needed to determine whether processes unrelated to response conflict contribute to this relationship.
Attentional models of psychopathy hold that psychopathic individuals fail to process information that conflicts with goal-directed behavior. However, they display normal interference on color-word Stroop tasks. To determine whether psychopathic individuals’ attention deficits are specific to conditions associated with the anterior cingulate (ACC) conflict monitoring system, we administered a Stroop task with a mostly-congruent condition associated with ACC activation, and a mostly-incongruent condition that is not, to 128 criminal offenders assessed for psychopathy using Hare’s (2003) PCL-R. Despite replicating previous condition Effects associated with differential ACC activation (Carter et al., 2000), psychopathic offenders and controls performed very similarly in both conditions. Results do not support an association between ACC-related deficits in conflict monitoring and the attention deficits of psychopathic offenders.
Psychopathy; Conflict monitoring; Anterior cingulate cortex
Several changes in the human sensory systems, like presbycusis or presbyopia, are well-known to occur with physiological ageing. A similar change is likely to occur in proprioception, too, but there are strong and unexplained discrepancies in the literature. It was proposed that assessment of the attentional cost of proprioceptive control could provide information able to unify these previous studies. To this aim, 15 young adults and 15 older adults performed a position matching task in single and dual-task paradigms with different difficulty levels of the secondary task (congruent and incongruent Stroop-type tasks) to assess presumed age-related deficits in proprioceptive control. Results showed that proprioceptive control was as accurate and as consistent in older as in young adults for a single proprioceptive task. However, performing a secondary cognitive task and increasing the difficulty of this secondary task evidenced both a decreased matching performance and/or an increased attentional cost of proprioceptive control in older adults as compared to young ones. These results advocated for an impaired proprioception in physiological ageing.
Elderly; Proprioception; Joint position sense; Attention; Sensory integration; Dual task
We combined measures from event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and cognitive performance (visual search response time) to test the hypotheses that differences between younger and older adults in top-down (goal-directed) attention would be related to cortical activation, and that white matter integrity as measured by DTI (fractional anisotropy, FA) would be a mediator of this age-related effect. Activation in frontal and parietal cortical regions was overall greater for older adults than for younger adults. The relation between activation and search performance supported the hypothesis of age differences in top-down attention. When the task involved top-down control (increased target predictability), performance was associated with frontoparietal activation for older adults, but with occipital (fusiform) activation for younger adults. White matter integrity (FA) exhibited an age-related decline that was more pronounced for anterior brain regions than for posterior regions, but white matter integrity did not specifically mediate the age-related increase in activation of the frontoparietal attentional network.
Aging; Neuroimaging; White matter; Brain activation; Fractional anisotropy; Region of interest; Top-down processing; Visual search; Perception; Cognition; Response time
Individuals who abuse methamphetamine (MA) perform at levels below those of healthy controls on tests that require cognitive control. As cognitive control deficits may influence the success of treatment for addiction, we sought to help clarify the neural correlates of this deficit. MA-dependent (n=10, abstinent 4–7 days) and control subjects (n=18) performed a color-word Stroop task, which requires cognitive control, during functional MRI (fMRI). The task included a condition in which participants were required to respond to one stimulus dimension while ignoring another conflicting dimension, and another condition without conflict. We compared the groups on performance and neural activation in the two conditions. MA-dependent subjects made more errors and responded more slowly than controls. Controlling for response times in the incongruent condition, voxel-wise mixed effects analyses (whole-brain corrected) demonstrated that MA-dependent subjects had less activation than control subjects in the right inferior frontal gyrus, supplementary motor cortex/anterior cingulate gyrus and the anterior insular cortex during the incongruent condition only. MA-dependent subjects did not exhibit greater activation in any brain region in either of the Stroop conditions. These preliminary findings suggest that hypofunction in cortical areas that are important for executive function underlies cognitive control deficits associated with MA dependence.
Methamphetamine; Stroop; fMRI; cognitive control; prefrontal cortex; insula
Humans are able to continuously monitor environmental situations and adjust their behavioral strategies to optimize performance. Here we investigate the behavioral and brain adjustments that occur when conflicting stimulus elements are, or are not, temporally predictable. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were collected while manual-response variants of the Stroop task were performed in which the stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs) between the relevant-color and irrelevant-word stimulus components were either randomly intermixed, or held constant, within each experimental run. Results indicated that the size of both the neural and behavioral effects of stimulus incongruency varied with the temporal arrangement of the stimulus components, such that the random-SOA arrangements produced the greatest incongruency effects at the earliest irrelevant-first SOA (−200 ms) and the constant-SOA arrangements produced the greatest effects with simultaneous presentation. These differences in conflict processing were accompanied by rapid (~150 ms) modulations of the sensory ERPs to the irrelevant distracter components when they occurred consistently first. These effects suggest that individuals are able to strategically allocate attention in time to mitigate the influence of a temporally predictable distracter. As these adjustments are instantiated by the subjects without instruction, they reveal a form of rapid strategic learning for dealing with temporally predictable stimulus incongruency.
Stroop task; conflict processing; event-related potentials (ERPs); incongruency; Stimulus Onset Asynchrony (SOA)
Tasks involving conflict are widely used to study executive attention. In the flanker task, a target stimulus is surrounded by distracting information that can be congruent or incongruent with the correct response. Developmental differences in the time course of brain activations involved in conflict processing were examined for 22 four year old children and 18 adults. Subjects performed a child-friendly flanker task while their brain activity was registered using a high-density electroencephalography system.
General differences were found in the amplitude and time course of event-related potentials (ERPs) between children and adults that are consistent with their differences in reaction time. In addition, the congruency of flankers affected both the amplitude and latency of some of the ERP components. These effects were delayed and sustained for longer periods of time in the children compared to the adults.
These differences constitute neural correlates of children's greater difficulty in monitoring and resolving conflict in this and similar tasks.
Methamphetamine (MA) abuse is associated with neurotoxicity to frontostriatal brain regions with concomitant deleterious effects on cognitive processes. Deficits in behavioral control are thought to be one contributing factor to the sustainment of addictive behaviors in chronic MA abuse.
In order to examine patterns of behavioral control relevant to addiction, we employed a fast-event related fMRI design to examine trial to trial reaction time (RT) adjustments in 12 chronic MA abusers who met DSM-IV criteria for MA dependence and 16 non-substance abusing controls. A variant of the Stroop task was employed to contrast the groups on error rates, RT Stroop conflict effect and the level of trial-to-trial adjustments seen after incongruent trials.
The MA abusers exhibited reduced RT adjustments along with reduced activation in the right prefrontal cortex compared to controls on conditions that measured the ability to use exposure to conflict situations (i.e., conflict trials) to regulate behavior. MA abusers did not differ from controls on accuracy rates or within-trial Stroop conflict effects.
The observed deficits in trial to trial RT adjustments suggest that the ability to adapt a behavioral response based on prior experience may be compromised in MA abusers. Such adjustments are critical to everyday functioning and deficits in modifying behavior based on prior events may reflect a key deficit that contributes to maladaptive drug seeking behavior.
Methamphetamine; prefrontal; attention; fMRI; imaging
Performance on traditional selective attention tasks, like the Stroop and flanker protocols, is subject to modulation by trial history, whereby the magnitude of congruency (or conflict) effects is often found to decrease following an incongruent trial compared to a congruent one. These “congruency sequence effects” (CSEs) typically appear to reflect a mesh of memory- and attention-based processes. The current study aimed to shed new light on the nature of the attention-based contribution to CSEs, by characterizing the shape of the CSE time-course while controlling for mnemonic influences. Existing attention-based accounts of CSEs are either ambiguous in their predictions of CSE time-courses, or predict CSEs to persist or grow over the post-stimulus/response interval in anticipation of an upcoming stimulus. We gauged CSE time-courses by systematically varying inter-stimulus (Experiment 1) and response-to-stimulus (Experiment 2) intervals across a wide temporal range, in a face–word Stroop task. In spite of an exponential increase in the likelihood of stimulus appearance with increasing interval duration (i.e., an exponential hazard function), results from both experiments showed CSEs to be most pronounced at the shortest intervals, to quickly decay in magnitude with increasing interval length, and to be absent at longer intervals. These data refute the idea that attentional contributions to CSEs remain static over post-stimulus/response intervals and are incompatible with the notion that CSEs reflect expectation-guided preparatory biasing in anticipation of a forthcoming stimulus. The data are compatible, however, with the notion that attentional contributions to CSEs reflect a short-lived, phasic enhancement of attentional set in reaction to processing conflict.
cognitive control; congruency sequence effect; conflict adaptation; attention; expectation
A rapid event-related fMRI arrow flanker task was used to study aging-associated decline in executive functions related to interference resolution. Older adults had more difficulty responding to Incongruent cues during the flanker task compared to the young adults; the response time difference between the Incongruent and Congruent conditions in the older group was over 50% longer compared to the young adults. In the frontal regions, differential activation (“Incongruent – Congruent” conditions) was observed in the inferior and middle frontal gyri in within-group analyses for both groups. However, the cluster was smaller in the older group and the centroid location was shifted by 19.7 mm. The left superior and medial frontal gyri also appeared to be specifically recruited by older adults during interference resolution, partially driven by errors. The frontal right lateralization found in the young adults was maintained in the older adults during successful trials. Interestingly, bilateral activation was observed when error trials were combined with successful trials highlighting the influence of brain activation associated with errors during cognitive processing. In conclusion, aging appears to result in modified functional regions that may contribute to reduced interference resolution. In addition, error processing should be considered and accounted for when studying age-related cognitive changes as errors may confound the interpretation of task specific age-related activation differences.
Congruency effects in distracter interference tasks are often smaller after incongruent trials than after congruent trials. However, the sources of such congruency sequence effects (CSEs) are controversial. The conflict monitoring model of cognitive control links CSEs to the detection and resolution of response conflict. In contrast, competing theories attribute CSEs to attentional or affective processes that vary with previous-trial congruency (incongruent vs. congruent). The present study sought to distinguish between conflict monitoring and congruency-based accounts of CSEs. To this end, we determined whether CSEs are driven by previous-trial reaction time (RT)—a putative measure of response conflict—or by previous-trial congruency. In two experiments using a face-word Stroop task (n = 49), we found that current-trial congruency effects did not vary with previous-trial RT independent of previous-trial congruency. In contrast, current-trial congruency effects were influenced by previous-trial congruency independent of previous-trial RT. These findings appear more consistent with theories that attribute CSEs to non-conflict processes whose recruitment varies with previous-trial congruency than with theories that link CSEs to previous-trial response conflict.
congruency sequence effects; conflict monitoring; reaction time; face-word Stroop; sequential modulations
Existing evidence suggests that reward and attentional networks function in concert and that activation in one system influences the other in a reciprocal fashion; however, the nature of these influences remains poorly understood. We therefore developed a three-component task to assess the interaction effects of reward anticipation and conflict resolution on the behavioral performance and the activation of brain reward and attentional systems. Sixteen healthy adult volunteers aged 21–45 years were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing the task. A two-way repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) with cue (reward vs. non-reward) and target (congruent vs. incongruent) as within-subjects factors was used to test for main and interaction effects. Neural responses to anticipation, conflict, and reward outcomes were tested. Behaviorally there were main effects of both reward cue and target congruency on reaction time. Neuroimaging results showed that reward anticipation and expected reward outcomes activated components of the attentional networks, including the inferior parietal and occipital cortices, whereas surprising non-rewards activated the frontoinsular cortex bilaterally and deactivated the ventral striatum. In turn, conflict activated a broad network associated with cognitive control and motor functions. Interaction effects showed decreased activity in the thalamus, anterior cingulated gyrus, and middle frontal gyrus bilaterally when difficult conflict trials (e.g., incongruent targets) were preceded by reward cues; in contrast, the ventral striatum and orbitofrontal cortex showed greater activation during congruent targets preceded by reward cues. These results suggest that reward anticipation is associated with lower activation in attentional networks, possibly due to increased processing efficiency, whereas more difficult, conflict trials are associated with lower activity in regions of the reward system, possibly because such trials are experienced as less rewarding.
Attention; brain reward system; fMRI; motivation; neuroimaging; neuroscience
In the automatic imitation task (AIT) participants make a cued response during simultaneous exposure to a congruent or incongruent action made by another agent. Participants are slower to make the cued response on incongruent trials, which is thought to reflect conflict between the motor representation activated by the cue and the motor representation activated by the observed action. On incongruent trials, good performance requires the capacity to suppress the imitative action, in favor of producing the cued response. Here, we introduce a new experimental paradigm that complements the AIT, and is therefore a useful task for studying the control of self and other activated representations. In what we term the “Controlled Imitation Task (CIT)”, participants are cued to make an action, but on 50% of trials, within 100 ms of this cue, an on-screen hand makes a congruent or incongruent action. If the onscreen hand moves, the participant must suppress the cued response, and instead imitate the observed action as quickly and accurately as possible. In direct contrast to the AIT, the CIT requires suppression of a self-activated motor representation, and prioritization of an imitative response. In experiment 1, we report a robust pattern of interference effects in the CIT, such that participants are slower to make the imitative response on incongruent compared to congruent trials. In experiment 2, we replicate this effect while including a non-imitative spatial-cue control condition to show that the effect is particularly robust for imitative response tendencies per se. Owing to the essentially opposite control requirements of the CIT versus the AIT (i.e., suppression of self-activated motor representations instead of suppression of other-activated motor representations), we propose that this new task is a potentially informative complementary paradigm to the AIT that can be used in studies of self-other control processes.
Imitation; Automatic imitation; Controlled imitation; Mirror system; Motor resonance; Automatic imitation Task; Self-related processing; Other-related processing; Self-other control
Humans are constantly confronted with environmental stimuli that conflict with task goals and can interfere with successful behavior. Prevailing theories propose the existence of cognitive control mechanisms that can suppress the processing of conflicting input and enhance that of the relevant input. However, the temporal cascade of brain processes invoked in response to conflicting stimuli remains poorly understood. By examining evoked electrical brain responses in a novel, hemifield-specific, visual-flanker task, we demonstrate that task-irrelevant conflicting stimulus input is quickly detected in higher-level executive regions while simultaneously inducing rapid, recurrent modulation of sensory processing in the visual cortex. Importantly, however, both of these effects are larger for individuals with greater incongruency-related reaction time slowing. The combination of neural activation patterns and behavioral interference effects suggest that this initial sensory modulation induced by conflicting stimulus inputs reflects performance-degrading attentional distraction due to their incompatibility, rather than any rapid task-enhancing cognitive control mechanisms. The present findings thus provide neural evidence for a model in which attentional distraction is the key initial trigger for the temporal cascade of processes by which the human brain responds to conflicting stimulus input in the environment.
Neuroimaging work on multisensory conflict suggests that the relevant modality receives enhanced processing in the face of incongruency. However, the degree of stimulus processing in the irrelevant modality and the temporal cascade of the attentional modulations in either the relevant or irrelevant modalities are unknown. Here, we employed an audiovisual conflict paradigm with a sensory probe in the task-irrelevant modality (vision) to gauge the attentional allocation to that modality. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded as subjects attended to and discriminated spoken auditory letters while ignoring simultaneous bilateral visual letter stimuli that were either fully congruent, fully incongruent, or partially incongruent (one side incongruent, one congruent) with the auditory stimulation. Half of the audiovisual letter stimuli were followed 500-700 ms later by a bilateral visual probe stimulus. As expected, ERPs to the audiovisual stimuli showed an incongruency ERP effect (fully incongruent versus fully congruent) of an enhanced, centrally distributed, negative-polarity wave starting ~250 ms. More critically here, the sensory ERP components to the visual probes were larger when they followed fully incongruent versus fully congruent multisensory stimuli, with these enhancements greatest on fully incongruent trials with the slowest response times. In addition, on the slowest-response partially incongruent trials, the P2 sensory component to the visual probes was larger contralateral to the preceding incongruent visual stimulus. These data suggest that, in response to conflicting multisensory stimulus input, the initial cognitive effect is a capture of attention by the incongruent irrelevant-modality input, pulling neural processing resources toward that modality, resulting in rapid enhancement, rather than rapid suppression, of that input.
Past studies have suggested attentional control tasks such as the Stroop task and the task switching paradigm may be sensitive to the early detection of Dementia of the Alzheimer type (DAT). The current study combined these tasks to create a Stroop switching task. Performance was compared across young adults, older adults, and individuals diagnosed with “Very Mild” dementia. Results indicated that this task strongly discriminated healthy aging from early stage DAT. In a logistic regression analysis, incongruent error rates from the Stroop Switch discriminated healthy aging from DAT better than any of the other 18 cognitive tasks given in a psychometric battery.
ALZHEIMER’DISEASE; ATTENTIONAL CONTROL; TASK SWITCHING; DEMENTIA; STROOP
Aging has readily observable effects on the ability to resolve conflict between competing stimulus attributes that are likely related to selective structural and functional brain changes. To identify age-related differences in neural circuits subserving conflict processing, we combined structural and functional MRI and a Stroop Match-to-Sample task involving perceptual cueing and repetition to modulate resources in healthy young and older adults. In our Stroop Match-to-Sample task, older adults handled conflict by activating a frontoparietal attention system more than young adults and engaged a visuomotor network more than young adults when processing repetitive conflict and when processing conflict following valid perceptual cueing. By contrast, young adults activated frontal regions more than older adults when processing conflict with perceptual cueing. These differential activation patterns were not correlated with regional gray matter volume despite smaller volumes in older than young adults. Given comparable performance in speed and accuracy of responding between both groups, these data suggest that successful aging is associated with functional reorganization of neural systems to accommodate functionally increasing task demands on perceptual and attentional operations.
Conflict; Stroop; Perceptual Cueing; Functional Reorganization; structural MRI; functional MRI
Increased attentional demand has been shown to reduce motor performance, leading to increases in accidents, particularly in elderly populations. While these deficits have been well documented behaviorally, their cortical correlates are less well known. Increased attention has been shown to affect activity in prefrontal regions of the cortex. However there have been varying results within past research investigating corticomotor regions, mediating motor performance. This mini-review initially discusses past behavioral research, before moving to studies investigating corticomotor areas in response to changes in attention. Recent dual task studies have revealed a possible decline in the ability of older, but not younger, adults to activate inhibitory processes within the motor cortex, which may be correlated with poor motor performance, and thus accidents. A reduction in cortical inhibition may be caused by neurodegeneration within prefrontal regions of the cortex with age, rendering older adults less able to allocate attention to corticomotor regions.
attention; dual task; inhibition; transcranial magnetic stimulation; motor cortex; mini-review
Models of selective attention predict that focused attention to spatially contiguous stimuli may result in enhanced activity in areas of cortex specialized for processing task-relevant and task-irrelevant information. We examined this hypothesis by localizing color-sensitive areas (CSA) and word and letter sensitive areas of cortex and then examining modulation of these regions during performance of a modified version of the Stroop task in which target and distractors are spatially coincident. We report that only the incongruent condition with the highest cognitive demand showed increased activity in CSA relative to other conditions, indicating an attentional enhancement in target processing areas. We also found an enhancement of activity in one region sensitive to word/letter processing during the most cognitively demanding incongruent condition indicating greater processing of the distractor dimension. Correlations with performance revealed that top-down modulation during the task was critical for effective filtering of irrelevant information in conflict conditions. These results support predictions made by models of selective attention and suggest an important mechanism of top-down attentional control in spatially contiguous stimuli.
Attentional control; Top-down modulation; Stroop task; Color-sensitive; Visual word form area
Previous studies have indicated that the processes leading to the resolution of emotional and non-emotional interference conflicts are unrelated, involving separate networks. It is also known that conflict resolution itself suggests a considerable overlap of the networks. Our study is an attempt to examine how these findings may be related.
We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study neural responses of 24 healthy subjects to emotional and non-emotional conflict paradigms involving the presentation of congruent and incongruent word-face pairs based on semantic incompatibility between targets and distractors. In the emotional task, the behavioral interference conflict was greater (compared to the non-emotional task) and was paralleled by involvement of the extrastriate visual and posterodorsal medial frontal cortices. In both tasks, we also observed a common network including the dorsal anterior cingulate, the supplemental motor area, the anterior insula and the inferior prefrontal cortex, indicating that these brain structures are markers of experienced conflict. However, the emotional task involved conflict-triggered networks to a considerably higher degree.
Our findings indicate that responses to emotional and non-emotional distractors involve the same systems, which are capable of flexible adjustments based on conflict demands. The function of systems related to conflict resolution is likely to be adjusted on the basis of an evaluation process that primarily involves the extrastriate visual cortex, with target playing a significant role.
Momentary reductions of attention can have extremely adverse outcomes, but it remains unclear whether increased distraction from irrelevant stimuli contributes to such outcomes. To investigate this hypothesis, we examined trial-by-trial relationships between brain activity and response time in twenty healthy adults while they performed a cross-modal selective attention task. In each trial, participants identified a relevant visual letter while ignoring an irrelevant auditory letter, which was mapped either to the same response as the visual letter (congruent trials) or to a different response (incongruent trials). As predicted, reductions of attention (i.e., increases of response time) were associated not only with decreased activity in sensory regions that processed the relevant visual stimuli, suggesting a failure to enhance the processing of those stimuli, but also with increased activity in sensory regions that processed the irrelevant auditory stimuli, suggesting a failure to suppress the processing of those stimuli. Reductions of attention were also linked to larger increases of activity in incongruent than in congruent trials in anterior cingulate regions that detect response conflict, suggesting that failing to suppress the sensory processing of the irrelevant auditory stimuli during attentional reductions allowed those stimuli to more readily activate conflicting responses in incongruent trials. These findings indicate that heightened levels of distraction during momentary reductions of attention likely stem, at least in part, from increased processing of irrelevant stimuli.
attention; auditory; visual; response conflict; fMRI; cognitive
The goal of this study was to examine the degree to which age-related differences in early or automatic levels of auditory processing and attention-related processes explain age-related differences in auditory temporal processing. We hypothesized that age-related differences in attention and cognition compound age-related differences at automatic levels of processing, contributing to the robust age effects observed during challenging listening tasks.
We examined age-related and individual differences in cortical event-related potential (ERP) amplitudes and latencies, processing speed, and gap detection from twenty-five younger and twenty-five older adults with normal hearing. ERPs were elicited by brief silent periods (gaps) in an otherwise continuous broadband noise and were measured under two listening conditions, passive and active. During passive listening, participants ignored the stimulus and read quietly. During active listening, participants button pressed each time they detected a gap. Gap detection (percent detected) was calculated for each gap duration during active listening (3, 6, 9, 12 and 15 ms). Processing speed was assessed using the Purdue Pegboard test and the Connections Test. Repeated measures ANOVAs assessed effects of age on gap detection, processing speed, and ERP amplitudes and latencies. An “attention modulation” construct was created using linear regression to examine the effects of attention while controlling for age-related differences in auditory processing. Pearson correlation analyses assessed the extent to which attention modulation, ERPs, and processing speed predicted behavioral gap detection. Results: Older adults had significantly poorer gap detection and slower processing speed than younger adults. Even after adjusting for poorer gap detection, the neurophysiological response to gap onset was atypical in older adults with reduced P2 amplitudes and virtually absent N2 responses. Moreover, individual differences in attention modulation of P2 response latencies and N2 amplitudes predicted gap detection and processing speed in older adults. That is, older adults with P2 latencies that decreased and N2 amplitudes that increased with active listening had faster processing speed and better gap detection than those older adults whose P2 latencies increased and N2 amplitudes decreased with attention
Results from the current study are broadly consistent with previous findings that older adults exhibit significantly poorer gap detection than younger adults in challenging tasks. Even after adjusting for poorer gap detection, older and younger adults showed robust differences in their electrophysiological responses to sound offset. Furthermore, the degree to which attention modulated the ERP was associated with individual variation in measures of processing speed and gap detection. Taken together, these results suggests an age-related deficit in early or automatic levels of auditory temporal processing and that some older adults may be less able to compensate for declines in processing by attending to the stimulus. These results extend our previous findings and support the hypothesis that age-related differences in cognitive or attention-related processing, including processing speed, contribute to an age-related decrease in gap detection.
Spoken language processing in noisy environments, a hallmark of the human brain, is subject to age-related decline, even when peripheral hearing might be intact. The present study examines the cortical cerebral hemodynamics (measured by fMRI) associated with such processing in the aging brain. Younger and older subjects identified single words in quiet and in two multi-talker babble noise conditions (SNR 20 and −5 dB). Behaviorally, older and younger subjects did not show significant differences in the first two conditions but older adults performed less accurately in the SNR -5 condition. The fMRI results showed reduced activation in the auditory cortex but an increase in working memory and attention-related cortical areas (prefrontal and precuneus regions) in older subjects, especially in the SNR -5 condition. Increased cortical activities in general cognitive regions were positively correlated with behavioral performance in older listeners, suggestive of a compensatory strategy. Furthermore, inter-regional correlation revealed that while younger subjects showed a more streamlined cortical network of auditory regions in response to spoken word processing in noise, older subjects showed a more diffused network involving frontal and ventral brain regions. These results are consistent with the decline-compensation hypothesis, suggestive of its applicability to the auditory domain.
Speech-in-noise; elderly; fMRI; cognitive aging; sensory aging; hearing