Age Affects How Task Difficulty and Complexity Modulate Perceptual Decision-Making

Claudine Habak, Mohamed L. Seghier, Julie Brûlé, Mohamed A. Fahim, Oury Monchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Decisions differ in difficulty and rely on perceptual information that varies in richness (complexity); aging affects cognitive function including decision-making, and yet, the interaction between difficulty and perceptual complexity have rarely been addressed in aging. Using a parametric fMRI modulation analysis and psychophysics, we address how task difficulty affects decision-making when controlling for the complexity of the perceptual context in which decisions are made. Perceptual complexity was varied in a factorial design while participants made perceptual judgments on the spatial frequency of two patches that either shared the same orientation (simple condition) or were orthogonal in orientation (complex condition). Psychophysical thresholds were measured for each participant in each condition and served to set individualized levels of difficulty during scanning. Findings indicate that discriminability interacts with complexity, to influence decisional difficulty. Modulation as a function of difficulty is maintained with age, as indicated by coupling between increased activation in fronto-parietal regions and suppression in the lateral hubs, however, age has a specific effect in the ventral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), driven by performance at near-threshold (difficult) levels for the simpler stimulus combination condition, but not the more complex one. Taken together, our findings suggest that the context of difficulty, or what is perceived as important, changes with age, and that decisions that would seem neutral to younger participants, may carry more emphasis with age.

Original languageBritish English
Article number28
JournalFrontiers in Aging Neuroscience
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • aging
  • decision-making
  • fMRI signal modulation
  • functional MRI
  • perceptual discrimination
  • psychophysics
  • task complexity
  • task difficulty


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