We have recently demonstrated that visuospatial working memory performance predicts the rate of motor skill learning, particularly during the early phase of visuomotor adaptation. Here, we follow up these correlational findings with direct manipulations of working memory resources to determine the impact on visuomotor adaptation, a form of motor learning. We conducted two separate experiments. In the first one, we used a resource depletion strategy to investigate whether the rate of early visuomotor adaptation would be negatively affected by fatigue of spatial working memory resources. In the second study, we employed a dual n-back task training paradigm that has been shown to result in transfer effects  over five weeks to determine whether training-related improvements would boost the rate of early visuomotor adaptation. The depletion of spatial working memory resources negatively affected the rate of early visuomotor adaptation. However, enhancing working memory capacity via training did not lead to improved rates of visuomotor adaptation, suggesting that working memory capacity may not be the factor limiting maximal rate of visuomotor adaptation in young adults. These findings are discussed from a resource limitation / capacity framework with respect to current views of motor learning.
working memory; visuomotor adaptation; resource depletion; cognitive training
In what form are multiple spatial locations represented in working memory? The current study revealed that people often maintain the configural properties (inter-item relationships) of visuospatial stimuli even when this information is explicitly task-irrelevant. However, results also indicate that the voluntary allocation of selective attention prior to stimulus presentation, as well as feature-based perceptual segregation of relevant from irrelevant stimuli, can eliminate the influences of stimulus configuration on location change detection performance. In contrast, voluntary attention cued to the relevant target location following presentation of the stimulus array failed to attenuate these influences. Thus, whereas voluntary selective attention can isolate or prevent the encoding of irrelevant stimulus locations and configural properties, people, perhaps due to limitations in attentional resources, reliably fail to isolate or suppress configural representations that have been encoded into working memory.
In many cases bilateral cortical activation in older adults has been associated with better task performance, suggesting that a greater reliance on interhemispheric interactions aids performance. Interhemispheric communication is primarily mediated via the corpus callosum (CC), however with advancing age the anterior half of the CC undergoes significant atrophy. Here we determine whether there are age differences in the relationship between cross-sectional area of the CC and performance on cognitive tests of psychomotor processing speed and working memory. We found that older adults had significantly smaller callosal area in the anterior and mid-body of the CC than young adults. Furthermore, older adults with larger size in these callosal areas performed better on assessments of working memory and processing speed. Our results indicate that older adults with larger size of the anterior half of the CC exhibit better cognitive function, although their performance was still poorer than young adults with similar CC size. Thus, while the capability for interhemispheric interactions, as inferred from callosal size, may provide performance benefits for older adults, this capacity alone does not assure protection from general performance decline.
Corpus callosum; aging; working memory; processing speed
There are declines with age in speed of processing, working memory, inhibitory function, and long-term memory, as well as decreases in brain structure size and white matter integrity. In the face of these decreases, functional imaging studies have demonstrated, somewhat surprisingly, reliable increases in prefrontal activation. To account for these joint phenomena, we propose the scaffolding theory of aging and cognition (STAC). STAC provides an integrative view of the aging mind, suggesting that pervasive increased frontal activation with age is a marker of an adaptive brain that engages in compensatory scaffolding in response to the challenges posed by declining neural structures and function. Scaffolding is a normal process present across the lifespan that involves use and development of complementary, alternative neural circuits to achieve a particular cognitive goal. Scaffolding is protective of cognitive function in the aging brain, and available evidence suggests that the ability to use this mechanism is strengthened by cognitive engagement, exercise, and low levels of default network engagement.
default network; dedifferentiation; hippocampus; compensation; cognitive reserve; frontal activation
Currently, it is unclear what model of timing best describes temporal processing across millisecond and second timescales in tasks with different response requirements. In the present set of experiments, we assessed whether the popular dedicated scalar model of timing accounts for performance across a restricted timescale surrounding the 1 second duration for different tasks. The first two experiments evaluate whether temporal variability scales proportionally with the timed duration within temporal reproduction. The third experiment compares timing across millisecond and second timescales using temporal reproduction and discrimination tasks designed with parallel structures. The data exhibit violations of the assumptions of a single scalar timekeeper across millisecond and second timescales within temporal reproduction; these violations are less apparent for temporal discrimination. The finding of differences across tasks suggests that task demands influence the mechanisms that are engaged for keeping time.
Time; Time perception; Time estimation; Prospective timing; Scalar timing PsycINFO classification: 2340
Distortions of long-term memory (LTM) in the converging associates task are thought to arise from semantic associative processes and monitoring failures due to degraded verbatim and/or contextual memory. Traditionally, sensory-based coding is considered more prevalent than meaning-based coding in short-term memory (STM), whereas the converse characterizes LTM, leading to the expectation that false memory phenomena should be less robust in a canonical STM task. These expectations were violated in two experiments in which participants viewed lists of four semantically-related words and were probed immediately following a filled 3–4 second retention interval or approximately 20 minutes later in a surprise recognition test. Corrected false recognition rates, confidence ratings, and Remember/Know judgments reveal similar false memory effects across STM and LTM conditions. These results indicate that compelling false memory illusions can be rapidly instantiated, and originate from processes that are not specific to LTM tasks, consistent with unitary models of memory.
In this article, marking the 65th anniversary of the Journal of Gerontology, we offer a broad-brush overview of the new synthesis between neuroscientific and psychological approaches to cognitive aging. We provide a selective review of brain imaging studies and their relevance to mechanisms of cognitive aging first identified primarily from behavioral measurements. We also examine some new key discoveries, including evidence favoring plasticity and compensation that have emerged specifically from using cognitive neuroscience methods to study healthy aging. We then summarize several recent neurocognitive theories of aging, including our own model—the Scaffolding Theory of Aging and Cognition. We close by discussing some newly emerging trends and future research trajectories for investigating the aging mind and brain.
Aging; Plasticity; Cognitive Neuroscience; Imaging
Neuroplasticity can be defined as the ability of the nervous system to respond to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, function and connections. Major advances in the understanding of neuroplasticity have to date yielded few established interventions. To advance the translation of neuroplasticity research towards clinical applications, the National Institutes of Health Blueprint for Neuroscience Research sponsored a workshop in 2009. Basic and clinical researchers in disciplines from central nervous system injury/stroke, mental/addictive disorders, paediatric/developmental disorders and neurodegeneration/ageing identified cardinal examples of neuroplasticity, underlying mechanisms, therapeutic implications and common denominators. Promising therapies that may enhance training-induced cognitive and motor learning, such as brain stimulation and neuropharmacological interventions, were identified, along with questions of how best to use this body of information to reduce human disability. Improved understanding of adaptive mechanisms at every level, from molecules to synapses, to networks, to behaviour, can be gained from iterative collaborations between basic and clinical researchers. Lessons can be gleaned from studying fields related to plasticity, such as development, critical periods, learning and response to disease. Improved means of assessing neuroplasticity in humans, including biomarkers for predicting and monitoring treatment response, are needed. Neuroplasticity occurs with many variations, in many forms, and in many contexts. However, common themes in plasticity that emerge across diverse central nervous system conditions include experience dependence, time sensitivity and the importance of motivation and attention. Integration of information across disciplines should enhance opportunities for the translation of neuroplasticity and circuit retraining research into effective clinical therapies.
neuroplasticity; retraining; therapeutics; clinical assessment
We investigate whether aging leads to global declines in discrete and continuous bimanual coordination tasks thought to rely on different control mechanisms for temporal coupling of the limbs. All conditions of continuous bimanual circle drawing were associated with age-equivalent temporal control. This was also true for discrete simultaneous tapping. Older adults’ between-hand coordination deficits were specific to discrete tapping conditions requiring asynchronous intermanual timing and were associated with self-reported executive dysfunction on the Dysexecutive (DEX) questionnaire. Also, older adults exclusively showed a relationship between the most difficult bimanual circling condition and a measure of working memory. Thus, age-related changes in bimanual coordination are specific to task conditions that place complex timing demands on left and right hand movements and are, therefore, likely to require executive control.
Executive Control; Motor Control; Bimanual Coordination; Aging
As the population ages, the need for effective methods to maintain or even improve older adults’ cognitive performance becomes increasingly pressing. Here we provide a brief review of the major intervention approaches that have been the focus of past research with healthy older adults (strategy training, multi-modal interventions, cardiovascular exercise, and process-based training), and new approaches that incorporate neuroimaging. As outcome measures, neuroimaging data on intervention-related changes in volume, structural integrity, and functional activation can provide important insights into the nature and duration of an intervention's effects. Perhaps even more intriguingly, several recent studies have used neuroimaging data as a guide to identify core cognitive processes that can be trained in one task with effective transfer to other tasks that share the same underlying processes. Although many open questions remain, this research has greatly increased our understanding of how to promote successful aging of cognition and the brain.
Work in functional neuroimaging has mapped interference resolution processing onto left inferior frontal regions for both verbal working memory and a variety of semantic processing tasks. The proximity of the identified regions from these different tasks suggests the existence of a common, domain-general interference resolution mechanism. The current research specifically tests this idea in a within-subject design using fMRI to assess the activation associated with variable selection requirements in a semantic retrieval task (verb generation) and a verbal working memory task with a trial-specific proactive interference manipulation (recent-probes). High interference trials on both tasks were associated with activity in the midventrolateral region of the left inferior frontal gyrus, and the regions activated in each task strongly overlapped. The results indicate that an elemental component of executive control associated with interference resolution during retrieval from working memory and from semantic memory can be mapped to a common portion of the left inferior frontal gyrus.
Prefrontal cortex; Cognitive control; Magnetic resonance imaging; Working memory; Semantic retrieval; Interference; Selection
Working memory function declines across the lifespan. Computational models of aging attribute such memory impairments to reduced distinctiveness between neural representations of different mental states in old age, a phenomenon termed dedifferentiation. These models predict that neural distinctiveness should be reduced uniformly across experimental conditions in older adults. In contrast, the Compensation-Related Utilization of Neural Circuits Hypothesis (CRUNCH) model predicts that the distinctiveness of neural representations should be increased in older adults (relative to young adults) at low levels of task demand but reduced at high levels of demand. The present study used multi-voxel pattern analysis to measure the effects of age and task demands on the distinctiveness of the neural representations of verbal and visuospatial working memory. Neural distinctiveness was estimated separately for memory encoding, maintenance, and retrieval, and for low, medium, and high memory loads. Results from sensory cortex during encoding and retrieval were consistent with the dedifferentiation hypothesis: distinctiveness of visual cortical representations during these phases was uniformly reduced in older adults, irrespective of memory load. However, maintenance-related responses in prefrontal and parietal regions yielded a strikingly different pattern of results. At low loads, older adults showed higher distinctiveness than younger adults; at high loads, this pattern reversed, such that distinctiveness was higher in young adults. This interaction between age group and memory load is at odds with the dedifferentiation hypothesis but consistent with CRUNCH. In sum, our results provide partial support for both dedifferentiation- and compensation-based models; we argue that comprehensive theories of cognitive aging must incorporate aspects of both models to fully explain complex patterns of age-related neuro-cognitive change.
aging; working memory; dedifferentiation; compensation; multi-voxel pattern analysis; fMRI
This study tested the hypothesis that implicit power motivation (nPower), in interaction with power incentives, influences activation of brain systems mediating motivation. Twelve individuals low (lowest quartile) and 12 individuals high (highest quartile) in nPower, as assessed per content coding of picture stories, were selected from a larger initial participant pool and participated in a functional magnetic resonance imaging study during which they viewed high-dominance (angry faces), low-dominance (surprised faces) and control stimuli (neutral faces, gray squares) under oddball-task conditions. Consistent with hypotheses, high-power participants showed stronger activation in response to emotional faces in brain structures involved in emotion and motivation (insula, dorsal striatum, orbitofrontal cortex) than low-power participants.
implicit motives; facial expressions of emotion; motivation; power; dominance; personality; brain; fMRI
Working memory mediates the short-term maintenance of information. Virtually all empirical research on working memory involves investigations of working memory for verbal and visual information. Whereas aging is typically associated with a deficit in working memory for these types of information, recent findings suggestive of relatively well-preserved long-term memory for emotional information in older adults raise questions about working memory for emotional material. This study examined age differences in working memory for emotional versus visual information. Findings demonstrate that, despite an age-related deficit for the latter, working memory for emotion was unimpaired. Further, older adults exhibited superior performance on positive relative to negative emotion trials, whereas their younger counterparts exhibited the opposite pattern.
emotion; working memory; affect; cognition; positivity effect
The International Affective Picture System (IAPS) is widely used in studies of emotion and has been characterized primarily along the dimensions of valence, arousal, and dominance. Even though research has shown that the IAPS is useful in the study of discrete emotions, the categorical structure of the IAPS has not been characterized thoroughly. The purpose of the present project was to collect descriptive emotional category data on subsets of the IAPS in an effort to identify images that elicit one discrete emotion more than others. These data reveal multiple emotional categories for the images and indicate that this image set has great potential in the investigation of discrete emotions. This article makes these data available to researchers with such interests.
A resource depletion framework motivated a novel strategy for investigating whether the central executive is unitary or separable into relatively independent subprocesses. The idea that tasks with overlapping neural representations may involve similar executive components was also critical to our approach. Of particular interest were tasks requiring resolution of interference among competing representations. Within a single experimental session intensive training reduced the ability to resolve interference on a transfer task if the training task placed high demands on interference resolution. Negative transfer was absent when interference resolution was minimally required by the task, or when the training and transfer tasks did not rely on overlapping neural representations. These results suggest a nonunitary central executive composed of separable subcomponents, at least one of which mediates interference resolution. Our results are consistent with an executive control process specialized for the selection of task relevant representations from competitors. The results also agree with the view that higher cognitive processes are resource limited and can be temporarily depleted.
Prefrontal; Cognitive control; Semantic; Memory; Negative transfer; Working memory