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Psychologisches Institut Methoden der Plastizitätsforschung

New publication by Dawid Strzelczyk, Tzvetan Popov, Nicolas Langer et al. in bioRxiv: «Neurophysiological markers of successful learning in healthy aging»

The capacity to learn and memorize is a key determinant for the quality of life, but is known to decline to varying degrees with age. Previous ERP research methods had the limitation that their design did not allow to track the gradual memory formation process. Thus, the neural mechanisms underlying memory formation and the critical features that determine the extent to which aging affects learning are still unknown. By using a visual sequence learning task, which consists of the repeated presentation of a simple sequence of tokens, we are able to track the progress of gradual memory formation through both neurophysiological and behavioral markers. On a neurophysiological level, we focused on two learning related centroparietal ERP components: the P300 and broad positivity.

Our results revealed that although both age groups showed significant learning progress, young individuals learned faster and remembered more stimuli than older participants. Successful learning was directly linked to a decrease of P300 amplitude. However, young participants showed larger P300 amplitude with a sharper decrease during the memory formation process. The P300 amplitude predicted learning success in both age groups, was associated with increased fronto-parietal brain network activation and showed good test-retest reliability. Highly, similar results were found for the broad positivity component, which raises the questions if the BP is a distinct component or just a prolonged P300. In a series of analyses, including topographic analysis of variance (TANOVA), equivalence testing and source reconstruction analysis, we addressed the unresolved questions. These analyses revealed concordant distributed brain activation patterns within parietal circuits. Thus, there is no evidence (rather evidence for equivalence) for distinct underlying neural generators for the two components.

Taken together, the results highlight the importance of the P300 as a neurophysiological marker of learning and may enable the development of preventive measures for age-related impeded learning.


Link to Publication