Age-related differences in frontoparietal activation for target and distractor singletons during visual search.

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Age-related decline in visual search performance has been associated with different patterns of activation in frontoparietal regions using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), but whether these age-related effects represent specific influences of target and distractor processing is unclear. Therefore, we acquired event-related fMRI data from 68 healthy, community-dwelling adults ages 18-78 years, during both conjunction (T/F target among rotated Ts and Fs) and feature (T/F target among Os) search. Some displays contained a color singleton that could correspond to either the target or a distractor. A diffusion decision analysis indicated age-related increases in sensorimotor response time across all task conditions, but an age-related decrease in the rate of evidence accumulation (drift rate) was specific to conjunction search. Moreover, the color singleton facilitated search performance when occurring as a target and disrupted performance when occurring as a distractor, but only during conjunction search, and these effects were independent of age. The fMRI data indicated that decreased search efficiency for conjunction relative to feature search was evident as widespread frontoparietal activation. Activation within the left insula mediated the age-related decrease in drift rate for conjunction search, whereas this relation in the FEF and parietal cortex was significant only for individuals younger than 30 or 44 years, respectively. Finally, distractor singletons were associated with significant parietal activation, whereas target singletons were associated with significant frontoparietal deactivation, and this latter effect increased with adult age. Age-related differences in frontoparietal activation therefore reflect both the overall efficiency of search and the enhancement from salient targets.





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Merenstein, Jenna L, Hollie A Mullin and David J Madden (2023). Age-related differences in frontoparietal activation for target and distractor singletons during visual search. Attention, perception & psychophysics, 85(3). pp. 749–768. 10.3758/s13414-022-02640-x Retrieved from

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Jenna Merenstein

Postdoctoral Scholar

My research uses MRI to study the effect of healthy brain aging on numerous cognitive abilities, especially memory and attention. I also use MRI to study the structural and functional brain properties that differentiate Alzheimer's disease from healthy aging. I obtained my Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience in April 2022 from Dr. Lani Bennett's lab at the University of California, Riverside. I am currently a Postdoctoral Associate working in the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center (BIAC) with Dr. David Madden. 


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.

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