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 WAKE-UP provides new treatment option for stroke patients | International study led by UKE
17.05.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf

nachricht First form of therapy for childhood dementia CLN2 developed
25.04.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf

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: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>