Aging effects on selective attention-related electroencephalographic patterns during face encoding.Neuroscience. 2010 Nov 24; 171(1):173-86.N
Previous electrophysiological studies revealed that human faces elicit an early visual event-related potential (ERP) within the occipito-temporal cortex, the N170 component. Although face perception has been proposed to rely on automatic processing, the impact of selective attention on N170 remains controversial both in young and elderly individuals. Using early visual ERP and alpha power analysis, we assessed the influence of aging on selective attention to faces during delayed-recognition tasks for face and letter stimuli, examining 36 elderly and 20 young adults with preserved cognition. Face recognition performance worsened with age. Aging induced a latency delay of the N1 component for faces and letters, as well as of the face N170 component. Contrasting with letters, ignored faces elicited larger N1 and N170 components than attended faces in both age groups. This counterintuitive attention effect on face processing persisted when scenes replaced letters. In contrast with young, elderly subjects failed to suppress irrelevant letters when attending faces. Whereas attended stimuli induced a parietal alpha band desynchronization within 300-1000 ms post-stimulus with bilateral-to-right distribution for faces and left lateralization for letters, ignored and passively viewed stimuli elicited a central alpha synchronization larger on the right hemisphere. Aging delayed the latency of this alpha synchronization for both face and letter stimuli, and reduced its amplitude for ignored letters. These results suggest that due to their social relevance, human faces may cause paradoxical attention effects on early visual ERP components, but they still undergo classical top-down control as a function of endogenous selective attention. Aging does not affect the face bottom-up alerting mechanism but reduces the top-down suppression of distracting letters, possibly impinging upon face recognition, and more generally delays the top-down suppression of task-irrelevant information.