The P3 Parietal-To-Frontal Shift Relates to Age-Related Slowing in a Selective Attention Task

  • Reuter Eva-Maria
  • Voelcker-Rehage Claudia
  • Vieluf Solveig
  • Lesemann Franca Parianen
  • Godde Ben


Older adults recruit relatively more frontal as compared to parietal resources in a variety of cognitive and perceptual tasks. It is not yet clear whether this parietal-to-frontal shift is a compensatory mechanism, or simply reflects a reduction in processing efficiency. In this study we aimed to investigate how the parietal-to-frontal shift with aging relates to selective attention. Fourteen young and 26 older healthy adults performed a color Flanker task under three conditions (incongruent, congruent, neutral) and event-related potentials (ERPs) were measured. The P3 was analyzed for the electrode positions Pz, Cz, and Fz as an indicator of the parietal-to-frontal shift. Further, behavioral performance and other ERP components (P1 and N1 at electrodes O1 and O2; N2 at electrodes Fz and Cz) were investigated. First young and older adults were compared. Older adults had longer response times, reduced accuracy, longer P3 latencies, and a more frontal distribution of P3 than young adults. These results confirm the parietal-to-frontal shift in the P3 with age for the selective attention task. Second, based on the differences between frontal and parietal P3 activity the group of older adults was subdivided into those showing a rather equal distribution of the P3 and older participants showing a strong frontal focus of the P3. Older adults with a more frontally distributed P3 had longer response times than participants with a more equally distributed P3. These results suggest that the frontally distributed P3 observed in older adults has no compensatory function in selective attention but rather indicates less efficient processing and slowing with age.