Behavioral and Neural Markers of Flexible Attention over Working Memory in Aging.
Mok RM., Myers NE., Wallis G., Nobre AC.
Working memory (WM) declines as we age and, because of its fundamental role in higher order cognition, this can have highly deleterious effects in daily life. We investigated whether older individuals benefit from flexible orienting of attention within WM to mitigate cognitive decline. We measured magnetoencephalography (MEG) in older adults performing a WM precision task with cues during the maintenance period that retroactively predicted the location of the relevant items for performance (retro-cues). WM performance of older adults significantly benefitted from retro-cues. Whereas WM maintenance declined with age, retro-cues conferred strong attentional benefits. A model-based analysis revealed an increase in the probability of recalling the target, a lowered probability of retrieving incorrect items or guessing, and an improvement in memory precision. MEG recordings showed that retro-cues induced a transient lateralization of alpha (8-14 Hz) and beta (15-30 Hz) oscillatory power. Interestingly, shorter durations of alpha/beta lateralization following retro-cues predicted larger cueing benefits, reinforcing recent ideas about the dynamic nature of access to WM representations. Our results suggest that older adults retain flexible control over WM, but individual differences in control correspond to differences in neural dynamics, possibly reflecting the degree of preservation of control in healthy aging.