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Retrospective attention enhances visual working memory in the young but not the old: An ERP study


  • This research was supported by National Institute on Aging (NIA) 2R01AG016201-11A2.

Address correspondence to: Audrey Duarte, PhD, 654 Cherry St. NW, Atlanta, GA 30332-0170. E-mail:


Behavioral evidence from the young suggests spatial cues that orient attention toward task-relevant items in visual working memory (VWM) enhance memory capacity. Whether older adults can also use retrospective cues (“retro-cues”) to enhance VWM capacity is unknown. In the current event-related potential (ERP) study, young and old adults performed a VWM task in which spatially informative retro-cues were presented during maintenance. Young but not older adults' VWM capacity benefited from retro-cueing. The contralateral delay activity (CDA) ERP index of VWM maintenance was attenuated after the retro-cue, which effectively reduced the impact of memory load. CDA amplitudes were reduced prior to retro-cue onset in the old only. Despite a preserved ability to delete items from VWM, older adults may be less able to use retrospective attention to enhance memory capacity when expectancy of impending spatial cues disrupts effective VWM maintenance.