The time course of access to semantic information in high-performing older adults: behavioral evidence for the hemispheric asymmetry reduction in OLDer individuals

Neuropsychol Dev Cogn B Aging Neuropsychol Cogn. 2011 Jul;18(4):452-70. doi: 10.1080/13825585.2011.568047.


The possibility that the HAROLD phenomenon (i.e., Hemispheric Asymmetry Reduction in OLDer adults) is manifested in the course of access to semantic information, in particular the meaning of emotional words, was investigated using the visual half-field priming paradigm. The time course of priming was tracked in the cerebral hemispheres across three SOAs: 150, 300, and 750 ms. The results showed older and young adults had the same level of accuracy. While priming occurred unilaterally in young participants, the pattern of priming in older participants appeared to be bilateral whenever it was present, that is, at the 300- and 750-ms SOAs. The delay in the appearance of priming in older adults may be due to an increase in sensory thresholds that causes older adults to need more time to encode stimuli and fully activate their semantic network. It is concluded that the bilateral pattern of priming in the presence of an equivalent level of performance in older adults provides behavioral evidence supporting the compensatory role of the HAROLD phenomenon for this particular task.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Paired-Associate Learning / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Semantics*
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors
  • Vocabulary
  • Young Adult