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      Attentional control in the aging brain: insights from an fMRI study of the stroop task.

      Brain and Cognition

      Regression Analysis, Attention, Brain, pathology, Female, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Aged, Male, Middle Aged, Parietal Lobe, Prefrontal Cortex, Psychological Tests

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          Abstract

          Several recent studies of aging and cognition have attributed decreases in the efficiency of working memory processes to possible declines in attentional control, the mechanism(s) by which the brain attempts to limit its processing to that of task-relevant information. Here we used fMRI measures of neural activity during performance of the color-word Stroop task to compare the neural substrates of attentional control in younger (ages: 21-27 years old) and older participants (ages: 60-75 years old) during conditions of both increased competition (incongruent and congruent neutral) and increased conflict (incongruent and congruent neutral). We found evidence of age-related decreases in the responsiveness of structures thought to support attentional control (e.g., dorsolateral prefrontal and parietal cortices), suggesting possible impairments in the implementation of attentional control in older participants. Consistent with this notion, older participants exhibited more extensive activation of ventral visual processing regions (i.e., temporal cortex) and anterior inferior prefrontal cortices, reflecting a decreased ability to inhibit the processing of task-irrelevant information. Also, the anterior cingulate cortex, a region involved in evaluatory processes at the level of response (e.g., detecting potential for error), showed age-related increases in its sensitivity to the presence of competing color information. These findings are discussed in terms of newly emerging models of attentional control in the human brain.

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          Most cited references 53

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          The processing-speed theory of adult age differences in cognition.

          A theory is proposed to account for some of the age-related differences reported in measures of Type A or fluid cognition. The central hypothesis in the theory is that increased age in adulthood is associated with a decrease in the speed with which many processing operations can be executed and that this reduction in speed leads to impairments in cognitive functioning because of what are termed the limited time mechanism and the simultaneity mechanism. That is, cognitive performance is degraded when processing is slow because relevant operations cannot be successfully executed (limited time) and because the products of early processing may no longer be available when later processing is complete (simultaneity). Several types of evidence, such as the discovery of considerable shared age-related variance across various measures of speed and large attenuation of the age-related influences on cognitive measures after statistical control of measures of speed, are consistent with this theory.
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            Half a century of research on the Stroop effect: an integrative review.

             Colin MacLeod (1991)
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              Conflict monitoring versus selection-for-action in anterior cingulate cortex.

              The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), on the medial surface of the frontal lobes of the brain, is widely believed to be involved in the regulation of attention. Beyond this, however, its specific contribution to cognition remains uncertain. One influential theory has interpreted activation within the ACC as reflecting 'selection-for-action', a set of processes that guide the selection of environmental objects as triggers of or targets for action. We have proposed an alternative hypothesis, in which the ACC serves not to exert top-down attentional control but instead to detect and signal the occurrence of conflicts in information processing. Here, to test this theory against the selection-for-action theory, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activation during performance of a task where, for a particular subset of trials, the strength of selection-for-action is inversely related to the degree of response conflict. Activity within the ACC was greater during trials featuring high levels of conflict (and weak selection-for-action) than during trials with low levels of conflict (and strong selection-for-action), providing evidence in favour of the conflict-monitoring account of ACC function.
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                12139955

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