Emerging evidence has suggested that the tendency for older adults to bind too much contextual information during encoding (i.e., hyper-binding) may contribute to poorer memory for relevant contextual information during retrieval. While these findings are consistent with theories of age-related declines in selective attention and inhibitory control, the degree to which older adults are able to selectively attend to relevant contextual information during encoding is unknown. To better understand the neural dynamics associated with selective attention during encoding, the current study applied multivariate pattern analyses (MVPA) to oscillatory EEG in order to track moment-to-moment shifts of attention between relevant and irrelevant contextual information during encoding. Young and older adults studied pictures of objects in the presence of two contextual features: a color and a scene, and their attention was directed to the object's relationship with one of those contexts (i.e., target context). Results showed that patterns of oscillatory power successfully predicted whether selective attention was directed to a scene or color, across age groups. Individual differences in overall classification performance were associated with individual differences in target context memory accuracy during retrieval. However, changes in classification performance within a trial, suggestive of fluctuations in selective attention, predicted individual differences in hyper-binding. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to use MPVA techniques to decode attention during episodic encoding and the impact of attentional shifts toward distracting information on age-related context memory impairments and hyper-binding. These results are consistent with the as-of-yet unsubstantiated theory that age-related declines in context memory may be attributable to poorer selective attention and/or greater inhibitory deficits in older adults.
Keywords: Aging; Attention; Context memory; Encoding; Hyper-binding; MVPA.
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