Functional modular architecture underlying attentional control in aging
Previous research suggests that age-related differences in attention reflect the interaction of top-down and bottom-up processes, but the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying this interaction remain an active area of research. Here, within a sample of community-dwelling adults 19–78 years of age, we used diffusion reaction time (RT) modeling and multivariate functional connectivity to investigate the behavioral components and whole-brain functional networks, respectively, underlying bottom-up and top-down attentional processes during conjunction visual search. During functional MRI scanning, participants completed a conjunction visual search task in which each display contained one item that was larger than the other items (i.e., a size singleton) but was not informative regarding target identity. This design allowed us to examine in the RT components and functional network measures the influence of (a) additional bottom-up guidance when the target served as the size singleton, relative to when the distractor served as the size singleton (i.e., size singleton effect) and (b) top-down processes during target detection (i.e., target detection effect; target present vs. absent trials). We found that the size singleton effect (i.e., increased bottom-up guidance) was associated with RT components related to decision and nondecision processes, but these effects did not vary with age. Also, a modularity analysis revealed that frontoparietal module connectivity was important for both the size singleton and target detection effects, but this module became central to the networks through different mechanisms for each effect. Lastly, participants 42 years of age and older, in service of the target detection effect, relied more on between-frontoparietal module connections. Our results further elucidate mechanisms through which frontoparietal regions support attentional control and how these mechanisms vary in relation to adult age.