Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Selective attention involves top–down modulation of sensory cortical areas, such that responses to relevant information are enhanced whereas responses to irrelevant information are suppressed. Suppression of irrelevant information, unlike enhancement of relevant information, has been shown to be deficient in aging. Although these attentional mechanisms have been well characterized within the visual modality, little is known about these mechanisms when attention is selectively allocated across sensory modalities. The present EEG study addressed this issue by testing younger and older participants in three different tasks: Participants attended to the visual modality and ignored the auditory modality, attended to the auditory modality and ignored the visual modality, or passively perceived information presented through either modality. We found overall modulation of visual and auditory processing during cross-modal selective attention in both age groups. Top–down modulation of visual processing was observed as a trend toward enhancement of visual information in the setting of auditory distraction, but no significant suppression of visual distraction when auditory information was relevant. Top–down modulation of auditory processing, on the other hand, was observed as suppression of auditory distraction when visual stimuli were relevant, but no significant enhancement of auditory information in the setting of visual distraction. In addition, greater visual enhancement was associated with better recognition of relevant visual information, and greater auditory distractor suppression was associated with a better ability to ignore auditory distraction. There were no age differences in these effects, suggesting that when relevant and irrelevant information are presented through different sensory modalities, selective attention remains intact in older age.