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Nat Hum Behav. 2018;2:356-366. doi: 10.1038/s41562-018-0344-1. Epub 2018 May 7.

Arousal increases neural gain via the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system in younger adults but not in older adults.

Author information

Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, USA.
Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, USA.
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA.
Department of Psychology, Louisiana State University, USA.
School of Human Sciences, Takachiho University, Japan.
Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of Southern California, USA.
Department of Psychology, New York University, USA.
School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, UK.


In younger adults, arousal amplifies attentional focus to the most salient or goal-relevant information while suppressing other information. A computational model of how the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine (LC-NE) system can implement this increased selectivity under arousal and an fMRI study comparing how arousal affects younger and older adults' processing indicate that the amplification of salient stimuli and the suppression of non-salient stimuli are separate processes, with aging affecting suppression without impacting amplification under arousal. In the fMRI study, arousal increased processing of salient stimuli and decreased processing of non-salient stimuli for younger adults. In contrast, for older adults, arousal increased processing of both low and high salience stimuli, generally increasing excitatory responses to visual stimuli. Older adults also showed decline in LC functional connectivity with frontoparietal networks that coordinate attentional selectivity. Thus, among older adults, arousal increases the potential for distraction from non-salient stimuli.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests. The authors declare no competing financial nor non-financial interests.

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