We investigated age-related changes in frontal and parietal scalp event-related potential (ERP) activity during bottom-up and top-down attention. Younger and older participants were presented with arrays constructed to induce either automatic "pop-out" (bottom-up) or effortful "search" (top-down) behavior. Reaction times (RTs) increased and accuracy decreased with age, with a greater age-related decline in accuracy for the search than for the pop-out condition. The latency of the P300 elicited by the visual search array was shorter in both conditions in the younger than in the older adults. Pop-out target detection was associated with greater activity at parietal than at prefrontal locations in younger participants and with a more equipotential prefrontal-parietal distribution in older adults. Search target detection was associated with greater activity at prefrontal than at parietal locations in older relative to younger participants. Thus, aging was associated with a more prefrontal P300 scalp distribution during the control of bottom-up and top-down attention. Early latency extrastriate potentials were enhanced and N2-posterior-contralateral (N2pc) was reduced in the older group, supporting the idea that the frontal enhancements may be due to a compensation for disinhibition and distraction in the older adults. Taken together these findings provide evidence that younger and older adults recruit different frontal-parietal networks during top-down and bottom-up attention, with older adults increasing their recruitment of a more frontally distributed network in both of these types of attention. This work is in accord with previous neuroimaging findings suggesting that older adults recruit more frontal activity in the service of a variety of tasks than younger adults.
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