Enhancement of face-sensitive ERPs in older adults induced by face recognition training

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A common cognitive problem reported by older people is compromised face recognition, which is often paralleled by age-related changes in face-sensitive and memory-related components in event-related brain potentials (ERPs). We developed a new training using photorealistic caricatures based on evidence that caricatures are beneficial for people with compromised face processing. Twenty-four older participants (62–75 yrs, 13 female) completed 12 training sessions (3 per week, 60 min each) and 24 older participants (61–76 yrs, 12 female) acted as controls. Before and after training (or waiting), participants took part in a diagnostic test battery for face processing abilities, and in ERP experiments on face learning and recognition. Although performance improvements during the training provided little evidence for generalization to other face processing tasks, ERPs showed substantial training-related enhancements of face-sensitive ERPs. Specifically, we observed marked increases of the N170, P200 and N250 components, which may indicate training-induced enhancement of face detection and activation of identity-specific representations. Thus, neuronal correlates of face processing are plastic in older age, and can be modulated by caricature training.HighlightsNovel face-recognition training for older adults, using photorealistic caricatures.We assessed a large number of diagnostic tests and recorded EEG.We observed performance improvements during training, but little generalization.Extensive training (12 sessions) enhanced face-sensitive N170, P200 and N250.Long-lasting ERP changes show plasticity of face processing in older age.

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