Aging is often associated with declines in language production. For example, compared to younger adults, older adults experience more tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) states, show decreased speed and accuracy in naming objects, and have more pauses and fillers in speech, all of which indicate age-related increases in retrieval difficulty. While prior work has suggested that retrieval difficulty may be phonologically based, it is unclear whether there are age-related differences in the organization of phonological information per se or whether age-related difficulties may arise from accessing that information. Here we used fMRI to investigate the neural and behavioral basis of phonological neighborhood denisty (PND) effects on picture naming across the lifespan (N=91, ages 20-75). Consistent with prior work, behavioral results revealed that higher PND led to faster picture naming times and higher accuracies overall, and that older adults were less accurate in their responses. Consistent with the behavioral analyses, fMRI analyses showed that increasing PND was associated with decreased activation in auditory and motor language regions, including bilateral superior temporal gyri and bilateral precentral gyri. Interestingly, although there were age-related increases in functional activation to picture naming, there were no age-related modulations of neural sensitivity to PND. Overall, these results suggest that having a large cohort of phonological neighbors facilitates language production, and although aging is associated with increases in language production difficulty, sensitivity to phonological features during language production is stable across the lifespan.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cognitive Neuroscience