Neural markers of interindividual and age differences in TVA parameters visual processing speed and visual short-term memory storage capacity

18 December 2012
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Attentional performance is assumed to be a major source of interindividual differences in cognitive abilities and a critical determinant of cognitive functioning in older age. Based on the ‘Theory of Visual Attention’ (TVA), an individual’s general attentional capacity can be quantified by estimates of two parameters, visual processing speed C and vSTM storage capacity K. The theory’s neural interpretation (NTVA) further claims distinct brain mechanisms underlying the two functions. In my talk, I will present how we tested this assumption in an empirical neuro-cognitive approach by combining individual parameter estimates with recordings of event-related potentials (ERPs). Second, I will show how this approached was employed to investigate age-related changes in attentional functions. Our results revealed that distinct ERP markers mark interindividual differences in the two functions, independent of the participants’ age. Additionally, we found distinct ERP markers to mark decline in processing speed and reserve in storage capacity especially in older age. Together, the findings provide strong support for the NTVA assumption that visual processing speed and vSTM storage capacity reflect discrete attentional limitations and are supported by separate neural mechanism. Furthermore, they also suggest that age-related reorganization of attentional brain networks preserves (or even increases) the distinctiveness of these two functions.