Age-related modulation of EEG time-frequency responses in prospective memory retrieval

Gianvito Laera*, Giorgio Arcara, Patrick D. Gajewski, Matthias Kliegel, Alexandra Hering

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review



Prospective memory involves remembering to execute an intention at the appropriate moment (prospective component) as well as retrieving the intended action (retrospective component). Several electrophysiological studies showed that neural activity associated with the prospective and the retrospective component differed between older and younger adults. However, these studies mainly reported event-related potentials (ERP), without considering other oscillatory parameters of age-related neural modulations that might be associated with the two components. 


In the present study, we analysed electrophysiological data to describe the age-related patterns of brain oscillations associated with the prospective and the retrospective components of prospective memory. 


The prospective and the retrospective components were manipulated in two experiments. In experiment 1, the prospective component was manipulated by varying the cue distinctiveness (i.e., how easy it was to detect the cue based on colour). In experiment 2, the retrospective component was manipulated by varying the number of intentions to be remembered (i.e., one or two intentions). We used time-frequency analysis to characterise the EEG oscillatory activity in younger and older adults. Results: The prospective component was associated with age differences in alpha and beta frequency bands. Compared to younger adults, older adults showed a decrease of parietal alpha activity when they detected distinct prospective memory cues, and a decrease of parietal beta when they detected less distinct cues. Moreover, older adults showed less beta activity compared to the younger adults across experimental manipulations. No age differences emerged with respect to the retrospective component. 


The specific pattern of oscillatory activity associated with the prospective component in older adults could underlie the dynamic deployment of different attentional resources supporting cue detection. Moreover, beta activity in both experiments might support an attempt exerted by older adults to enhance task coordination processes. Overall, cluster-based permutation analyses provided a first description of the changes of the EEG time-frequency responses related to intention retrieval in older adults.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107818
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Ageing
  • Attentional control
  • Brain oscillations
  • Episodic memory
  • Human EEG
  • Prospective memory

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