Neural correlates of age-related visual search decline: A combined ERP and sLORETA study

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Differences in the neural systems underlying visual search processes for young (n = 17, mean age 19.6 ± 1.9) and older (n = 22, mean age 68.5 ± 6) subjects were investigated combining the Event-Related Potential (ERP) technique with standardized Low-Resolution brain Electromagnetic Tomography (sLORETA) analyses. Behavioral results showed an increase in mean reaction times (RTs) and a reduction in hit rates with age. The ERPs were significantly different between young and older subjects at the P3 component, showing longer latencies and lower amplitudes in older subjects. These ERP results suggest an age-related decline in the intensity and speed of visual processing during visual search that imply a reduction in attentional resources with normal aging. The sLORETA data revealed a significantly reduced neural differentiation in older subjects, who recruited bilateral prefrontal regions in a nonselective manner for the different search arrays. Finally, sLORETA between-group comparisons revealed that relative to young subjects, older subjects showed significantly reduced activity in anterior cingulate cortex as well as in numerous limbic and occipitotemporal regions contributing to visual search processes. These findings provide evidence that the neural circuit supporting this cognitive process is vulnerable to normal aging. All these attentional factors could contribute to poorer performance of older compared to young subjects in visual search tasks.

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