Event-related potentials reveal the effects of aging on meaning selection and revision


  • Aaron M. Meyer,

    1. Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA
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  • Kara D. Federmeier

    1. Department of Psychology, Neuroscience Program, and Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, USA
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  • We thank Padmapriya Kandhadai for sharing her stimuli, and we thank Renee Andersen, Kyle Gerst, Caterina Gratton, Jennifer Hanson, and Komal Kenkare for assistance with data collection. This research was supported by grant AG026308 to KDF and training grant MH019990 to AMM.

Address reprint requests to: Aaron M. Meyer, Northwestern University, 2240 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208. E-mail: aaron-meyer@northwestern.edu


ERPs were recorded as older adults decided if a target word was related to a lateralized ambiguous or unambiguous prime; prime-target pairs were preceded by a related or unrelated context word. In an unrelated context, N400 facilitation effects differed from those seen in young adults, with older adults showing priming for the dominant meaning (e.g., BOOM-BANK-DEPOSIT) on right visual field/left hemisphere (RVF/LH) trials and priming for the subordinate meaning (e.g., BOOM-BANK-RIVER) on LVF/RH trials. Higher-functioning older adults, especially those with better inhibition, were more likely to show bilateral activation of the dominant meaning and unilateral activation of the subordinate meaning, suggesting a retention of young-like activation. In a biasing context (e.g., RIVER-BANK-DEPOSIT), older adults selected the contextually-consistent meaning, but were less likely than young adults to revise their selection.