Melodic contour identification reflects the cognitive threshold of aging: A behavioral and physiological comparison between younger and older adults

(submitted to Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience)

Eunju Jeong, Hokyoung Ryu

Abstract: Cognitive decline is a natural phenomenon of aging. Although there exists a consensus that sensitivity to acoustic features of music is associated with such decline, no solid evidence has yet shown that structural elements and contexts of music explain this loss of cognitive performance. This study examined the extent and the type of cognitive decline that is related to the contour identification task (CIT) using tones with different pitches (i.e., melodic contours). Both younger and older adult groups participated in the CIT given in three listening conditions (i.e., focused, selective, and alternating). Behavioral data (accuracy and response times) and hemodynamic reactions were measured using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Our findings showed cognitive declines in the older adult group but with a subtle difference from the younger adult group. The accuracy of the melodic contour identification tasks given in the target-like distraction task (CIT2) was significantly lower than that in the environmental noise (CIT1) condition in the older adult group, indicating that CIT2 may be a benchmark test for age-specific cognitive decline. The fNIRS findings also agreed with this interpretation, revealing significant increases in oxyHb concentration in the younger rather than the older adult group. We further concluded that the oxyHb difference was present in the brain regions near the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Taken together, these findings suggest that CIT2 (i.e., the melodic contour task in the target-like distraction) is an optimized task that could indicate the degree and type of age-related cognitive decline.

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