Neural signatures of task-related fluctuations in auditory attention and age-related changes

Björn Herrmann*, Burkhard Maess, Molly J. Henry, Jonas Obleser, Ingrid S. Johnsrude

*Corresponding author for this work
2 Citations (Scopus)


Listening in everyday life requires attention to be deployed dynamically – when listening is expected to be difficult and when relevant information is expected to occur – to conserve mental resources. Conserving mental resources may be particularly important for older adults who often experience difficulties understanding speech. In the current study, we use electro- and magnetoencephalography to investigate the neural and behavioral mechanics of attention regulation during listening and the effects that aging has on these. We first show in younger adults (17–31 years) that neural alpha oscillatory activity indicates when in time attention is deployed (Experiment 1) and that deployment depends on listening difficulty (Experiment 2). Experiment 3 investigated age-related changes in auditory attention regulation. Middle-aged and older adults (54–72 years) show successful attention regulation but appear to utilize timing information differently compared to younger adults (20–33 years). We show a notable age-group dissociation in recruited brain regions. In younger adults, superior parietal cortex underlies alpha power during attention regulation, whereas, in middle-aged and older adults, alpha power emerges from more ventro-lateral areas (posterior temporal cortex). This difference in the sources of alpha activity between age groups only occurred during task performance and was absent during rest (Experiment S1). In sum, our study suggests that middle-aged and older adults employ different neural control strategies compared to younger adults to regulate attention in time under listening challenges.

Original languageEnglish
Article number119883
Publication statusPublished - 03.2023

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)

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