Aging reduces EEG markers of recognition despite intact performance: implications for forensic memory detection

Robin Hellerstedt, Arianna Moccia, Chloe M Brunskill, Howard Bowman, Zara M Bergström

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ERP-based forensic memory detection is based on the logic that guilty suspects will hold incriminating knowledge about crimes they have committed, and therefore should show parietal ERP positivities related to recognition when presented with reminders of their crimes. We predicted that such forensic memory detection might however be inaccurate in older adults, because of changes to recognition-related brain activity that occurs with aging. We measured both ERPs and EEG oscillations associated with episodic old/new recognition and forensic memory detection in 30 younger (age < 30) and 30 older (age > 65) adults. EEG oscillations were included as a complementary measure which is less sensitive to temporal variability and component overlap than ERPs. In line with predictions, recognition-related parietal ERP positivities were significantly reduced in the older compared to younger group in both tasks, despite highly similar behavioural performance. We also observed aging-related reductions in oscillatory markers of recognition in the forensic memory detection test, while the oscillatory effects associated with episodic recognition were similar across age groups. This pattern of results suggests that while both forensic memory detection and episodic recognition are accompanied by aging-induced reductions in parietal ERP positivities, these reductions may be caused by non-overlapping mechanisms across the two tasks. Our findings suggest that EEG-based forensic memory detection tests are less valid in older than younger populations, limiting their practical applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-97
Number of pages18
Early online date24 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd


  • Aging
  • EEG oscillations
  • ERP
  • Episodic memory
  • Forensic memory detection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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