The ERP correlates of self-knowledge in ageing
Davidson, Patrick SR
Self-knowledge is a type of personal semantic knowledge that concerns one’s self-image and personal identity. It has most often been operationalized as the summary of one’s personality traits (“I am a stubborn person”). Interestingly, recent studies have revealed that the neural correlates of self-knowledge can be dissociated from those of general semantic and episodic memory in young adults. However, studies of “dedifferentiation” or loss of distinctiveness of neural representations in ageing suggest that the neural correlates of self-knowledge might be less distinct from those of semantic and episodic memory in older adults. We investigated this question in an event-related potential (ERP) study with 28 young and 26 older adults while they categorised personality traits for their self-relevance (self-knowledge conditions), and their relevance to certain groups of people (general semantic condition). Participants then performed a recognition test for previously seen traits (episodic condition). The amplitude of the late positive component (LPC), associated with episodic recollection processes, differentiated the self-knowledge, general semantic, and episodic conditions in young adults, but not in older adults. However, in older adults, participants with higher composite episodic memory scores had more differentiated LPC amplitudes across experimental conditions. Moreover, consistent with the fact that age-related neural dedifferentiation may be material and region specific, in both age groups some differences between memory types were observed for the N400 component, associatedwith semantic processing. Taken together, these findings suggest that declarative memory subtypes are less distinct in ageing, but that the amount of differentiation varies with episodic memory function.