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Watching TV news as a memory task -- brain activation and age effects

Lars Frings124*, Irina Mader34 and Michael Hüll12

Author affiliations

1 Section of Gerontopsychiatry and Neuropsychology, Medical School, Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg, Germany

2 Center of Geriatrics and Gerontology Freiburg, Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg, Germany

3 Section of Neuroradiology, University Medical Center, Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg, Germany

4 Freiburg Brain Imaging, University Medical Center, Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg, Germany

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2010, 11:106  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-11-106

Published: 26 August 2010



Neuroimaging studies which investigate brain activity underlying declarative memory processes typically use artificial, unimodal laboratory stimuli. In contrast, we developed a paradigm which much more closely approximates real-life situations of information encoding.


In this study, we tested whether ecologically valid stimuli - clips of a TV news show - are apt to assess memory-related fMRI activation in healthy participants across a wide age range (22-70 years). We contrasted brain responses during natural stimulation (TV news video clips) with a control condition (scrambled versions of the same clips with reversed audio tracks). After scanning, free recall performance was assessed.


The memory task evoked robust activation of a left-lateralized network, including primarily lateral temporal cortex, frontal cortex, as well as the left hippocampus. Further analyses revealed that - when controlling for performance effects - older age was associated with greater activation of left temporal and right frontal cortex.


We demonstrate the feasibility of assessing brain activity underlying declarative memory using a natural stimulation paradigm with high ecological validity. The preliminary result of greater brain activation with increasing age might reflect an attempt to compensate for decreasing episodic memory capacity associated with aging.