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Epidemiologic evidence suggests that cognitive reserve (CR) mitigates the effects of aging on cognitive function. The goal of this study was to see whether a common neural mechanism for CR could be demonstrated in brain imaging data acquired during the performance of 2 tasks with differing cognitive processing demands. Young and elder subjects were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing a delayed item response task that used either letters (40 young, 18 old) or shapes (24 young, 21 old). Difficulty or load was manipulated by varying the number of stimuli that were presented for encoding. Load-dependent fMRI signal corresponding to each trial component (stimulus presentation, retention delay, and probe) and task (letter or shape) was regressed onto 2 putative CR variables. Canonical variates analysis was applied to the resulting maps of regression coefficients, separately for each trial component, to summarize the imaging data—CR relationships. There was a latent brain pattern noted in the stimulus presentation phase that manifested similar relationships between load-related encoding activation and CR variables across the letter and shape tasks in the young but not the elder age group. This spatial pattern could represent a general neural instantiation of CR that is affected by the aging process.