Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Changes in brain, not age, determine one’s ability to focus on task

27.10.2005


When it comes to focusing on a task amid distractions, some folks more than 60 years old are as mentally sharp as 22-year-olds. Others struggle. Researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have shed some light on why that is.



Reporting in the current issue (September) of the quarterly journal Psychology and Aging, the scientists say there is less white matter in the frontal lobes of those who struggle with focusing. The differences became apparent through the use of functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) imaging of the brains of 40 individuals ranging in age from 19 to 87.

"We found that both performance and brain-activation differences of older good performers and the older poor performers are predicted by changes in brain structure, specifically by the volume of white matter connecting the right and left hemispheres of the frontal lobes," said Arthur F. Kramer, a professor of psychology.


Participants took part in a "flanker" experiment in which they viewed a line of five keyboard arrows on a computer screen and reacted by pushing one of four buttons that corresponded with the direction the center arrow was pointing. Sometimes the participants would be distracted by changes in direction by arrows not in the center.

The experiment allowed researchers to study the ability to focus on important information and inhibit inappropriate information, Kramer said. Such focusing is important when driving a car, flying a plane or making a variety of everyday decisions.

Young people and high-functioning older adults tended to call upon tissue from the right frontal lobe -- specifically, the right middle frontal gyrus -- while some older, poorer-scoring participants also activated tissue in the left hemisphere (left middle frontal gyrus), said lead author Stan J. Colcombe, a research scientist at the Beckman Institute.

Previous research has shown similar results, followed by assumptions that other parts of the brain were activated by older people for assistance, not unlike using a cane to walk, Colcombe said. In this case, however, fMRI unveiled that the poor-performing over-60 participants were the ones using both frontal hemispheres. The older participants keeping pace with the younger group used only the right hemisphere.

Looking at the high-resolution images taken by fMRI by way of a voxel-based morphometric technique, which provides a 3D view of brain structure, the scientists examined gray and white matter. Gray matter represents neurons, or the processing units, while white matter can be thought of as the wiring that connects neurons.

No significant differences were detected in the gray matter. However, the poorer-performing older members had dramatically less white matter. Kramer and Colcombe theorize that the reduced white matter affects inhibition, the ability to turn off activation in the part of the brain not needed to complete a task.

"There is an underlying structure that supports these functions," Colcombe said. "We know that certain areas within the frontal lobes of the brain are most active in inhibitory tasks. These areas shrink with age. We are very interested in how the gray matter, the local processors, and the white matter -- the connecting inside wires -- interact."

Research in Kramer’s lab conducted in 2003 showed differences in gray and white matter in parts of the brain involved in decision-making in older people. Last year, Kramer, Colcombe and colleagues documented that six months of mild exercise significantly improved brain wiring and performance.

"I think this new work fits in very well," Kramer said. "This was basic research. It didn’t involve an intervention like fitness training, but we now know that the amount of white matter can predict how well a person does on a task involving inhibition control."

Other co-authors on the new paper were Kirk I. Erickson and Paige Scalf, postdoctoral researchers at the Beckman Institute.

Jim Barlow | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uiuc.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht A sudden drop in outdoor temperature increases the risk of respiratory infections
11.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg

nachricht Urbanization to convert 300,000 km2 of prime croplands
27.12.2016 | Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) gGmbH

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle

17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences

Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

17.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Smart homes will “LISTEN” to your voice

17.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>