The findings offer an initial snapshot of what happens in the brain as young and old people try to access long-term memories, and could shed light on why some people's cognitive abilities decline with age while others remain sharp.
"Your task performance can be impaired not just because you can't remember, but because you can't suppress other memories that are irrelevant," said senior author Susan Courtney, a cognitive neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins. "Some 'memory problems' aren't a matter of memory specifically, but a matter of retrieving the correct information at the right time to solve the problem at hand."
Findings - Neurobiology - Aging
The findings were just posted in Neurobiology of Aging.
The researchers had 34 young adults (18 to 30) and 34 older adults (65-85) perform a mental arithmetic task while their brain activity was measured through functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. Other images were also collected to measure the integrity of the connections between brain areas called white matter tracts.
Task - Participants - Ability - Information - Term
The task compared the participants' ability to inhibit irrelevant information automatically retrieved from long term memory. They were asked to indicate whether a proposed solution to an addition or multiplication problem was correct or not -- for instance 8x4=12 or 8+4=32. These examples would create interference as participants considered the right answer because although they should answer "incorrect," the proposed solution seems correct at first glance, based on long-term memories of basic math. This interference did not exist when participants were asked to answer clearly false equations like 8x4=22. Making the...
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