Chronological age and its impact on associative learning proficiency and brain structure in middle adulthood

Vaibhav A. Diwadkar, Marcella Bellani, Rizwan Ahmed, Nicola Dusi, Gianluca Rambaldelli, Cinzia Perlini, Veronica Marinelli, Karthik Ramaseshan, Mirella Ruggeri, Paolo Brambilla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: The rate of biological change in middle-adulthood is relatively under-studied. Here, we used behavioral testing in conjunction with structural magnetic resonance imaging to examine the effects of chronological age on associative learning proficiency and on brain regions that previous functional MRI studies have closely related to the domain of associative learning. Methods: Participants (n= 66) completed a previously established associative learning paradigm, and consented to be scanned using structural magnetic resonance imaging. Age-related effects were investigated both across sub-groups in the sample (younger vs. older) and across the entire sample (using regression approaches). Results: Chronological age had substantial effects on learning proficiency (independent of IQ and Education Level), with older adults showing a decrement compared to younger adults. In addition, decreases in estimated gray matter volume were observed in multiple brain regions including the hippocampus and the dorsal prefrontal cortex, both of which are strongly implicated in associative learning. Conclusion: The results suggest that middle adulthood may be a more dynamic period of life-span change than previously believed. The conjunctive application of narrowly focused tasks, with conjointly acquired structural MRI data may allow us to enrich the search for, and the interpretation of, age-related changes in cross-sectional samples.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)329-337
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Publication statusPublished - Jan 15 2016


  • Aging
  • Associative learning
  • Brain structure
  • Hippocampus
  • Life span changes
  • Voxel based morphometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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