Response-level processing during visual feature search: Effects of frontoparietal activation and adult age.


Previous research suggests that feature search performance is relatively resistant to age-related decline. However, little is known regarding the neural mechanisms underlying the age-related constancy of feature search. In this experiment, we used a diffusion decision model of reaction time (RT), and event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate age-related differences in response-level processing during visual feature search. Participants were 80 healthy, right-handed, community-dwelling individuals, 19-79 years of age. Analyses of search performance indicated that targets accompanied by response-incompatible distractors were associated with a significant increase in the nondecision-time (t0) model parameter, possibly reflecting the additional time required for response execution. Nondecision time increased significantly with increasing age, but no age-related effects were evident in drift rate, cautiousness (boundary separation, a), or in the specific effects of response compatibility. Nondecision time was also associated with a pattern of activation and deactivation in frontoparietal regions. The relation of age to nondecision time was indirect, mediated by this pattern of frontoparietal activation and deactivation. Response-compatible and -incompatible trials were associated with specific patterns of activation in the medial and superior parietal cortex, and frontal eye field, but these activation effects did not mediate the relation between age and search performance. These findings suggest that, in the context of a highly efficient feature search task, the age-related influence of frontoparietal activation is operative at a relatively general level, which is common to the task conditions, rather than at the response level specifically.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Madden, David J, Rachel E Siciliano, Catherine W Tallman, Zachary A Monge, Andreas Voss and Jessica R Cohen (2020). Response-level processing during visual feature search: Effects of frontoparietal activation and adult age. Attention, perception & psychophysics, 82(1). pp. 330–349. 10.3758/s13414-019-01823-3 Retrieved from

This is constructed from limited available data and may be imprecise. To cite this article, please review & use the official citation provided by the journal.



David Joseph Madden

Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

My research focuses primarily on the cognitive neuroscience of aging: the investigation of age-related changes in perception, attention, and memory, using both behavioral measures and neuroimaging techniques, including positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).

The behavioral measures have focused on reaction time, with the goal of distinguishing age-related changes in specific cognitive abilities from more general effects arising from a slowing in elementary perceptual processes. The cognitive abilities of interest include selective attention as measured in visual search tasks, semantic and episodic memory retrieval, and executive control processes.

The behavioral measures are necessary to define the cognitive abilities of interest, and the neuroimaging techniques help define the functional neuroanatomy of those abilities. The PET and fMRI measures provide information regarding neural activity during cognitive performance. DTI is a recently developed technique that images the structural integrity of white matter. The white matter tracts of the brain provide critical pathways linking the gray matter regions, and thus this work will complement the studies using PET and fMRI that focus on gray matter activation.

A current focus of the research program is the functional connectivity among regions, not only during cognitive task performance but also during rest. These latter measures, referred to as intrinsic functional connectivity, are beginning to show promise as an index of overall brain functional efficiency, which can be assessed without the implementation of a specific cognitive task. From DTI, information can be obtained regarding how anatomical connectivity constrains intrinsic functional connectivity. It will be important to determine the relative influence of white matter pathway integrity, intrinsic functional connectivity, and task-related functional connectivity, as mediators of age-related differences in behavioral measures of cognitive performance.

Ultimately, the research program can help link age-related changes in cognitive performance to changes in the structure and function of specific neural systems. The results also have implications for clinical translation, in terms of the identification of neural biomarkers for the diagnosis of neural pathology and targeting rehabilitation procedures.

Unless otherwise indicated, scholarly articles published by Duke faculty members are made available here with a CC-BY-NC (Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial) license, as enabled by the Duke Open Access Policy. If you wish to use the materials in ways not already permitted under CC-BY-NC, please consult the copyright owner. Other materials are made available here through the author’s grant of a non-exclusive license to make their work openly accessible.