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J Neurosci. 2015 Feb 4;35(5):2213-25. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1018-14.2015.

Learning to integrate versus inhibiting information is modulated by age.

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Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths College, University of London, London, SE14 6NW, United Kingdom
Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and.
Department of Experimental Psychology, University College London, London, WC1N 3AR, United Kingdom, and.


Cognitive training aiming at improving learning is often successful, but what exactly underlies the observed improvements and how these differ across the age spectrum are currently unknown. Here we asked whether learning in young and older people may reflect enhanced ability to integrate information required to perform a cognitive task or whether it may instead reflect the ability to inhibit task-irrelevant information for successful task performance. We trained 30 young and 30 aging human participants on a numerosity discrimination task known to engage the parietal cortex and in which cue-integration and inhibitory abilities can be distinguished. We coupled training with parietal, motor, or sham transcranial random noise stimulation, known for modulating neural activity. Numerosity discrimination improved after training and was maintained long term, especially in the training + parietal stimulation group, regardless of age. Despite the quantitatively similar improvement in the two age groups, the content of learning differed remarkably: aging participants improved more in inhibitory abilities, whereas younger subjects improved in cue-integration abilities. Moreover, differences in the content of learning were reflected in different transfer effects to untrained but related abilities: in the younger group, improvements in cue integration paralleled improvements in continuous quantity (time and space), whereas in the elderly group, improvements in numerosity-based inhibitory abilities generalized to other measures of inhibition and corresponded to a decline in space discrimination, possibly because conflicting learning resources are used in numerosity and continuous quantity processing. These results indicate that training can enhance different, age-dependent cognitive processes and highlight the importance of identifying the exact processes underlying learning for effective training programs.


ageing; brain stimulation; learning strategies; neuroenhancement; parietal lobe; quantity processing

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