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Front Neurosci. 2019 Sep 11;13:961. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2019.00961. eCollection 2019.

Sex, Age, and Handedness Modulate the Neural Correlates of Active Learning.

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Department of Neurology, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, United States.
Department of Psychology, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, United States.
Department of Pediatrics, Division of Neurology, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Pediatric Neuroimaging Research Consortium, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, OH, United States.
Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.



Self-generation of material compared to passive learning results in mproved memory performance; this may be related to recruitment of a fronto-temporal encoding network. Using a verbal paired-associate learning fMRI task, we examined the effects of sex, age, and handedness on the neural correlates of self-generation.


Data from 174 healthy English-speaking participants (78M, 56 atypically handed; ages 19-76) were preprocessed using AFNI and FSL. Independent component analysis was conducted using GIFT (Group ICA fMRI Toolbox). Forty-one independent components were temporally sorted by task time series. Retaining correlations (r > 0.25) resulted in three task-positive ("generate") and three task-negative ("read") components. Using participants' back-projected components, we evaluated the effects of sex, handedness, and aging on activation lateralization and localization in task-relevant networks with two-sample t-tests. Further, we examined the linear relationship between sex and neuroimaging data with multiple regression, covarying for scanner, age, and handedness.


Task-positive components identified using ICA revealed a fronto-parietal network involved with self-generation, while task-negative components reflecting passive reading showed temporo-occipital involvement. Compared to older adults, younger adults exhibited greater task-positive involvement of the left inferior frontal gyrus and insula, whereas older adults exhibited reduced prefrontal lateralization. Greater involvement of the left angular gyrus in task-positive encoding networks among right-handed individuals suggests the reliance on left dominant semantic processing areas may be modulated by handedness. Sex effects on task-related encoding networks while controlling for age and handedness suggest increased right hemisphere recruitment among males compared to females, specifically in the paracentral lobe during self-generation and the suparmarginal gyrus during passive reading.


Identified neuroimaging differences suggest that sex, age, and handedness are factors in the differential recruitment of encoding network regions for both passive and active learning.


age; associate learning; fMRI; handedness; sex; verbal memory

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