Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Numerous studies have documented that older adults (OAs) do not perform as well as young adults (YAs) when task demands require the establishment or retrieval of a novel link between previously unrelated information (relational memory: RM). Nonetheless, the source of this age-related RM deficit remains unspecified. One of the most widely investigated factors is an age-related reduction in attentional resources. To investigate this factor, previous researchers have tested whether dividing YAs' attention during encoding equated their RM performance to that of OAs. However, results from these studies failed to replicate the age-related RM impairment observed in aging. The current study investigated whether a reduction in attentional resources for processing of relational information (i.e., relational attention) underlies age-related RM deficits. Using fMRI, we examined whether the effect of reduced attentional resources for processing of relational information is similar to that observed in aging at both behavioral and neural levels. The behavioral results showed that reduced attentional resources for relational information during encoding equated YAs RM performance to that of OAs. Furthermore, the fMRI results demonstrated that both aging, as well as reductions in relational attention in YAs, significantly reduced activity in brain areas associated with successful RM formation, namely, the ventrolateral and dorsolateral PFC, superior and inferior parietal regions, and left hippocampus. Such converging evidence from behavioral and neuroimaging studies suggests that a reduction in attentional resources for relational information is a critical factor for the RM deficit observed in aging.