Older adults show impaired modulation of attentional alpha oscillations: Evidence from dichotic listening

Chad S. Rogers, Lisa Payne, Sujala Maharjan, Arthur Wingfield, Robert Sekuler

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Auditory attention is critical for selectively listening to speech from a single talker in a multitalker environment (e.g., Cherry, 1953). Listening in such situations is notoriously more difficult and more poorly encoded to long-term memory in older than in young adults (Tun, O'Kane, & Wingfield, 2002). Recent work by Payne, Rogers, Wingfield, and Sekuler (2017) in young adults demonstrated a neural correlate of auditory attention in the directed dichotic listening task (DDLT), where listeners attend to one ear while ignoring the other. Measured using electroencephalography, differences in alpha band power (8-14 Hz) between left and right hemisphere parietal regions mark the direction to which auditory attention is focused. Little prior research has been conducted on alpha power modulations in older adults, particularly with regard to auditory attention directed toward speech stimuli. In the current study, an older adult sample was administered the DDLT and delayed recognition procedures used by Payne et al. (2017). Compared to young adults, older adults showed reduced selective attention in the DDLT, evidenced by a higher rate of intrusions from the unattended ear. Moreover, older adults did not exhibit attention-related alpha modulation evidenced by young adults, nor did their event-related potentials (ERPs) to recognition probes differentiate between attended or unattended probes. Older adults' delayed recognition did not reveal a pattern of suppression of unattended items evidenced by young adults. These results serve as evidence for an age-related decline in selective auditory attention, potentially mediated by age-related decline in the ability to modulate alpha oscillations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)246-258
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology and Aging
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


  • Aging
  • Alpha modulation
  • Attention
  • EEG
  • Speech perception


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