In old age, the ability to selectively process relevant aspects of the environment fades. Animal research suggests that the neuromodulator norepinephrine helps to maintain selective attention. We tested younger and older adults across a variety of attention tasks. In addition, we used arousing stimuli to experimentally activate participants’ noradrenergic system while recording pupillometry and EEG to infer its functional capacity. Older adults showed compromised attention and reduced noradrenergic responsiveness as indicated by interrelated pupil and EEG markers. Crucially, in both age groups, a more responsive noradrenergic system was strongly associated with attention. Our findings link animal and human studies on the neural underpinning of attention in aging and underscore the importance of the noradrenergic system in late-life cognition.
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