Aging and response conflict solution: behavioural and functional connectivity changes

Brain Struct Funct. 2015;220(3):1739-57. doi: 10.1007/s00429-014-0758-0. Epub 2014 Apr 10.


Healthy aging has been found associated with less efficient response conflict solution, but the cognitive and neural mechanisms have remained elusive. In a two-experiment study, we first examined the behavioural consequences of this putative age-related decline for conflicts induced by spatial stimulus-response incompatibility. We then used resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging data from a large, independent sample of adults (n = 399; 18-85 years) to investigate age differences in functional connectivity between the nodes of a network previously found associated with incompatibility-induced response conflicts in the very same paradigm. As expected, overcoming interference from conflicting response tendencies took longer in older adults, even after accounting for potential mediator variables (general response speed and accuracy, motor speed, visuomotor coordination ability, and cognitive flexibility). Experiment 2 revealed selective age-related decreases in functional connectivity between bilateral anterior insula, pre-supplementary motor area, and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Importantly, these age effects persisted after controlling for regional grey-matter atrophy assessed by voxel-based morphometry. Meta-analytic functional profiling using the BrainMap database showed these age-sensitive nodes to be more strongly linked to highly abstract cognition, as compared with the remaining network nodes, which were more strongly linked to action-related processing. These findings indicate changes in interregional coupling with age among task-relevant network nodes that are not specifically associated with conflict resolution per se. Rather, our behavioural and neural data jointly suggest that healthy aging is associated with difficulties in properly activating non-dominant but relevant task schemata necessary to exert efficient cognitive control over action.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Cognition*
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Young Adult