Attentional control in the aging brain: Insights from an fMRI study of the stroop task

Michael P. Milham, Kirk I. Erickson, Marie T. Banich, Arthur F. Kramer, Andrew Webb, Tracey Wszalek, Neal J. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Several recent studies of aging and cognition have attributed decreases in the efficiency of working memory processes to possible declines in attentional control, the mechanism(s) by which the brain attempts to limit its processing to that of task-relevant information. Here we used fMRI measures of neural activity during performance of the color-word Stroop task to compare the neural substrates of attentional control in younger (ages: 21-27 years old) and older participants (ages: 60-75 years old) during conditions of both increased competition (incongruent and congruent neutral) and increased conflict (incongruent and congruent neutral). We found evidence of age-related decreases in the responsiveness of structures thought to support attentional control (e.g., dorsolateral prefrontal and parietal cortices), suggesting possible impairments in the implementation of attentional control in older participants. Consistent with this notion, older participants exhibited more extensive activation of ventral visual processing regions (i.e., temporal cortex) and anterior inferior prefrontal cortices, reflecting a decreased ability to inhibit the processing of task-irrelevant information. Also, the anterior cingulate cortex, a region involved in evaluatory processes at the level of response (e.g., detecting potential for error), showed age-related increases in its sensitivity to the presence of competing color information. These findings are discussed in terms of newly emerging models of attentional control in the human brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-296
Number of pages20
JournalBrain and Cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002


  • Aging
  • Anterior cingulate
  • Attentional control
  • Competition
  • Conflict
  • Parietal cortex
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Stroop
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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