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C4 - Aging effects in selective attention

Marcus Hasselhorn and Michael Herrmann

The selective attending to relevant stimuli while inhibiting distracting information is crucial for coherent behavior. A breakdown in the inhibitory component of selective attention has become a favorite explanation for age related cognitive deficits. As an investigation tool negative priming (NP) was employed, in which subjects have to respond selectively to targets while ignoring irrelevant distractors (Titz et al. 2003b). Slower reactions on targets previously ignored (NP-effects) are observable for younger adults and were often attributed to inhibitory control (Houghton & Tipper 1994). However, a recent metaanalysis (Gamboz et al. 2002) showed age equivalent NP. In young adults inhibitory control was associated with right prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity (Cabeza 2000). A recent study on the effects of aging on brain activity reveales that PFC activity may compensatorily be less lateralized in older adults - despite equivalent cognitive performance (Cabeza et al. 2002). In accordance with this reasoning Titz et al. (2003a) experimentally could simultaneously demonstrate a global age invariance as well as specific age difference at the behavioral level of NP. Priming has been studied in several computational models (e.g. Herrmann et al. 1993), while there has been published only a single modelling study focussing specifically on NP (Houghton et al. 1996), without, however, considering aging effects nor the competing theories on the neurophysiological basis of NP.

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