The neural bases of multimodal sensory integration in older adults

Michele T. Diaz, Ege Yalcinbas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Although hearing often declines with age, prior research has shown that older adults may benefit from multisensory input to a greater extent when compared to younger adults, a concept known as inverse effectiveness. While there is behavioral evidence in support of this phenomenon, less is known about its neural basis. The present functional MRI (fMRI) study examined how older and younger adults processed multimodal auditory-visual (AV) phonemic stimuli which were either congruent or incongruent across modalities. Incongruent AV pairs were designed to elicit the McGurk effect. Behaviorally, reaction times were significantly faster during congruent trials compared to incongruent trials for both age-groups, and overall older adults responded more slowly. The interaction was not significant, suggesting that older adults processed the AV stimuli similarly to younger adults. Although there were minimal behavioral differences, age-related differences in functional activation were identified: Younger adults elicited greater activation than older adults in primary sensory regions including superior temporal gyrus, the calcarine fissure, and left postcentral gyrus. In contrast, older adults elicited greater activation than younger adults in dorsal frontal regions including middle and superior frontal gyri, as well as dorsal parietal regions. These data suggest that while there is age-related stability in behavioral sensitivity to multimodal stimuli, the neural bases for this effect differed between older and younger adults. Our results demonstrated that older adults underrecruited primary sensory cortices and had increased recruitment of regions involved in executive function, attention, and monitoring processes, which may reflect an attempt to compensate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-417
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Development
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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