Aging into Perceptual Control: A Dynamic Causal Modeling for fMRI Study of Bistable Perception
Aging is accompanied by stereotyped changes in functional brain activations, for example a cortical shift in activity patterns from posterior to anterior regions is one hallmark revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of aging cognition. Whether these neuronal effects of aging could potentially contribute to an amelioration of or resistance to the cognitive symptoms associated with psychopathology remains to be explored. We used a visual illusion paradigm to address whether aging affects the cortical control of perceptual beliefs and biases. Our aim was to understand the effective connectivity associated with volitional control of ambiguous visual stimuli and to test whether greater top-down control of early visual networks emerged with advancing age. Using a bias training paradigm for ambiguous images we found that older participants (n = 16) resisted experimenter-induced visual bias compared to a younger cohort (n = 14) and that this resistance was associated with greater activity in prefrontal and temporal cortices. By applying Dynamic Causal Models for fMRI we uncovered a selective recruitment of top-down connections from the middle temporal to Lingual gyrus (LIN) by the older cohort during the perceptual switch decision following bias training. In contrast, our younger cohort did not exhibit any consistent connectivity effects but instead showed a loss of driving inputs to orbitofrontal sources following training. These findings suggest that perceptual beliefs are more readily controlled by top-down strategies in older adults and introduce age-dependent neural mechanisms that may be important for understanding aberrant belief states associated with psychopathology.