Electrophysiological Correlates of Adult Age Differences in Attentional Control of Auditory Processing

Research Area: Research Year: 2014
Type of Publication: Article Keywords: aging, attention, auditory perception, conflict monitoring, ERP
Authors: Passow, Susanne; Westerhausen, Rene; Hugdahl, Kenneth; Wartenburger, Isabell; Heekeren, Hauke R.; Lindenberger, Ulman; Li, Shu-Chen
Abstract:
In addition to sensory decline, age-related losses in auditory percep- tion also reflect impairments in attentional modulation of perceptual saliency. Using an attention and intensity-modulated dichotic listen- ing paradigm, we investigated electrophysiological correlates of processing conflicts between attentional focus and perceptual sal- iency in 25 younger and 26 older adults. Participants were in- structed to attend to the right or left ear, and perceptual saliency was manipulated by varying the intensities of both ears. Attentional control demand was higher in conditions when attentional focus and perceptual saliency favored opposing ears than in conditions without such conflicts. Relative to younger adults, older adults modulated their attention less flexibly and were more influenced by perceptual saliency. Our results show, for the first time, that in younger adults a late negativity in the event-related potential (ERP) at fronto-central and parietal electrodes was sensitive to percep- tual–attentional conflicts during auditory processing (N450 modu- lation effect). Crucially, the magnitude of the N450 modulation effect correlated positively with task performance. In line with lower attentional flexibility, the ERP waveforms of older adults showed absence of the late negativity and the modulation effect. This suggests that aging compromises the activation of the fronto- parietal attentional network when processing the competing and conflicting auditory information.
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