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Cereb Cortex. 2014 Jan;24(1):249-60. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhs306. Epub 2012 Oct 4.

Electrophysiological correlates of adult age differences in attentional control of auditory processing.

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Center for Lifespan Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin D-14195, Germany.


In addition to sensory decline, age-related losses in auditory perception also reflect impairments in attentional modulation of perceptual saliency. Using an attention and intensity-modulated dichotic listening paradigm, we investigated electrophysiological correlates of processing conflicts between attentional focus and perceptual saliency in 25 younger and 26 older adults. Participants were instructed 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 perceptual-attentional conflicts during auditory processing (N450 modulation 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.


ERP; aging; attention; auditory perception; conflict monitoring

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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