Neural sensitivity to semantic neighbors is stable across the adult lifespan

Michele T. Diaz, Haoyun Zhang, Abigail L. Cosgrove, Victoria H. Gertel, Sara B.W. Troutman, Hossein Karimi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


As we age, language reflects patterns of both stability and change. On the one hand, vocabulary and semantic abilities are largely stable across the adult lifespan, yet lexical retrieval is often slower and less successful (i.e., slower picture naming times, increased tip of the tongue incidents). Although the behavioral bases of these effects have been well established, less is known about the brain regions that support these age-related differences. We used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to examine the neural basis of picture naming. Specifically, we were interested in whether older adults would be equally sensitive to semantic characteristics, specifically the number of semantic near neighbors. Near neighbors, defined here as items with a high degree of semantic feature overlap, were of interest as these are thought to elicit competition among potential candidates and increase naming difficulty. Consistent with prior reports, pictures with more semantic near neighbors were named more slowly and less accurately for all adults. Additionally, this interference for naming times was larger as age increased, starting around 30 years old. In contrast to the age-related behavioral slowing, the neural basis of these effects was stable across adulthood. Across all adults, a number of language-relevant regions including left posterior middle temporal gyrus and left inferior frontal gyrus, pars triangularis were sensitive to the number of near neighbors. Our results suggest that although middle-aged and older adults’ picture naming is more slowed by increased semantic competition, the brain regions supporting semantic processes remain stable across the adult lifespan.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108237
StatePublished - Jul 4 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Neural sensitivity to semantic neighbors is stable across the adult lifespan'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this