Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Individual differences in working memory (WM) performance have rarely been related to individual differences in the functional responsivity of the WM brain network. By neglecting person-to-person variation, comparisons of network activity between younger and older adults using functional imaging techniques often confound differences in activity with age trends in WM performance. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we investigated the relations among WM performance, neural activity in the WM network, and adult age using a parametric letter n-back task in 30 younger adults (21–31 years) and 30 older adults (60–71 years). Individual differences in the WM network's responsivity to increasing task difficulty were related to WM performance, with a more responsive BOLD signal predicting greater WM proficiency. Furthermore, individuals with higher WM performance showed greater change in connectivity between left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and left premotor cortex across load. We conclude that a more responsive WM network contributes to higher WM performance, regardless of adult age. Our results support the notion that individual differences in WM performance are important to consider when studying the WM network, particularly in age-comparative studies.