Word intelligibility and age predict visual cortex activity during word listening

Cereb Cortex. 2012 Jun;22(6):1360-71. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr211. Epub 2011 Aug 22.


The distractibility that older adults experience when listening to speech in challenging conditions has been attributed in part to reduced inhibition of irrelevant information within and across sensory systems. Whereas neuroimaging studies have shown that younger adults readily suppress visual cortex activation when listening to auditory stimuli, it is unclear the extent to which declining inhibition in older adults results in reduced suppression or compensatory engagement of other sensory cortices. The current functional magnetic resonance imaging study examined the effects of age and stimulus intelligibility in a word listening task. Across all participants, auditory cortex was engaged when listening to words. However, increasing age and declining word intelligibility had independent and spatially similar effects: both were associated with increasing engagement of visual cortex. Visual cortex activation was not explained by age-related differences in vascular reactivity but rather auditory and visual cortices were functionally connected across word listening conditions. The nature of this correlation changed with age: younger adults deactivated visual cortex when activating auditory cortex, middle-aged adults showed no relation, and older adults synchronously activated both cortices. These results suggest that age and stimulus integrity are additive modulators of crossmodal suppression and activation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods*
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Language Tests*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Young Adult