One important factor contributing to age-related memory decline is the loss of distinctiveness with which information is represented in brain activity. This loss in neural selectivity may be driven by neural attenuation (i.e., reduced activation to target stimuli) or neural broadening (i.e., increased activation to nontarget stimuli). In this fMRI study, we assessed age differences in neural selectivity during first encoding, repeated encoding, and recognition, as well as the underlying pattern (broadening vs. attenuation). We found lower neural selectivity in older compared to younger adults during all memory stages. Crucially, while reduced selectivity in older adults was due to neural broadening during first encoding, it was driven by neural attenuation during recognition, but revealed no clear pattern during repeated encoding. Our findings suggest that intrinsic differences between memory stages may interact with neural activity to manifest as either neural broadening or attenuation. Moreover, despite these differential patterns, neural selectivity was highly correlated across memory stages, indicating that one common mechanism may underly distinct expressions of age-related neural dedifferentiation.
Keywords: Aging; Episodic memory; Memory retrieval; Neural dedifferentiation; Neural selectivity; fMRI.
Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier Inc.