From the perspective of predictive coding, our brain embodies a hierarchical generative model to realize perception, which proactively predicts the statistical structure of sensory inputs. How are these predictive processes modified as we age? Recent research suggested that aging leads to decreased weighting of sensory inputs and increased reliance on predictions. Here we investigated whether this age-related shift from sensorium to predictions occurs at all levels of hierarchical message passing. We recorded the electroencephalography responses with an auditory local-global paradigm in a cohort of 108 healthy participants from 3 groups: seniors, adults, and adolescents. The detection of local deviancy seems largely preserved in older individuals at earlier latency (including the mismatch negativity followed by the P3a but not the reorienting negativity). In contrast, the detection of global deviancy is clearly compromised in older individuals, as they showed worse task performance and attenuated P3b. Our findings demonstrate that older brains show little decline in sensory (i.e., first-order) prediction errors but significant diminution in contextual (i.e., second-order) prediction errors. Age-related deficient maintenance of auditory information in working memory might affect whether and how lower-level prediction errors propagate to the higher level.
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