Previous studies examining age-group differences in working memory load-related neural activity have yielded mixed results. When present, age-group differences in working memory capacity are frequently proposed to underlie these neural effects. However, direct relationships between working memory capacity and working memory load-related activity have only been observed in younger adults. These relationships remain untested in healthy aging. Therefore, the present study examined patterns of working memory load-related activity in 22 younger and 20 older adults and assessed the contribution of working memory capacity to these load-related effects. Participants performed a partial-trial delayed response item recognition task during functional magnetic resonance imaging. In this task, participants encoded either 2 or 6 letters, maintained them during a delay, and then indicated whether a probe was present in the memory set. Behavioral results revealed faster and more accurate responses to load 2 versus 6, with age-group differences in this load condition effect for the accuracy measure. Neuroimaging results revealed one region (medial superior frontal gyrus) that showed age-group differences in load-related activity during the retrieval period, with less (greater) neural activity for the low versus high load condition in younger (older) adults. Furthermore, for older adults, load-related activity did not vary as a function of working memory capacity. Thus, working memory-related activity varies with healthy aging, but these patterns are not due solely to working memory capacity. Neurocognitive aging theories that feature capacity will need to account for these results.
- Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
- Healthy aging
- Working memory
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cognitive Neuroscience