Perceptual and conceptual processing of visual objects across the adult lifespan

Sci Rep. 2019 Sep 24;9(1):13771. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-50254-5.


Making sense of the external world is vital for multiple domains of cognition, and so it is crucial that object recognition is maintained across the lifespan. We investigated age differences in perceptual and conceptual processing of visual objects in a population-derived sample of 85 healthy adults (24-87 years old) by relating measures of object processing to cognition across the lifespan. Magnetoencephalography (MEG) was recorded during a picture naming task to provide a direct measure of neural activity, that is not confounded by age-related vascular changes. Multiple linear regression was used to estimate neural responsivity for each individual, namely the capacity to represent visual or semantic information relating to the pictures. We find that the capacity to represent semantic information is linked to higher naming accuracy, a measure of task-specific performance. In mature adults, the capacity to represent semantic information also correlated with higher levels of fluid intelligence, reflecting domain-general performance. In contrast, the latency of visual processing did not relate to measures of cognition. These results indicate that neural responsivity measures relate to naming accuracy and fluid intelligence. We propose that maintaining neural responsivity in older age confers benefits in task-related and domain-general cognitive processes, supporting the brain maintenance view of healthy cognitive ageing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longevity / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Semantics
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult