Background: The N1-P2 is an obligatory cortical response that can reflect the representation of spectral and temporal characteristics of an auditory stimulus. Traditionally, mean amplitudes and latencies of the prominent peaks in the averaged response are compared across experimental conditions. Analyses of the peaks in the averaged response only reflect a subset of the data contained within the electroencephalogram (EEG) signal. We used single-trial analyses techniques to identify the contribution of brain noise, neural synchrony, and spectral power to the generation of P2 amplitude and how these variables may change across age group. This information is important for appropriate interpretation of event-related potentials (ERPs) results and in understanding of age-related neural pathologies.
Methods: EEG was measured from 25 younger and 25 older normal hearing adults. Age-related and individual differences in P2 response amplitudes, and variability in brain noise, phase locking value (PLV), and spectral power (4–8 Hz) were assessed from electrode FCz. Model testing and linear regression were used to determine the extent to which brain noise, PLV, and spectral power uniquely predicted P2 amplitudes and varied by age group.
Results: Younger adults had significantly larger P2 amplitudes, PLV, and power compared to older adults. Brain noise did not differ between age groups. The results of regression testing revealed that brain noise and PLV, but not spectral power were unique predictors of P2 amplitudes. Model fit was significantly better in younger than in older adults.
Conclusions: ERP analyses are intended to provide a better understanding of the underlying neural mechanisms that contribute to individual and group differences in behavior. The current results support that age-related declines in neural synchrony contribute to smaller P2 amplitudes in older normal hearing adults. Based on our results, we discuss potential models in which differences in neural synchrony and brain noise can account for associations with P2 amplitudes and behavior and potentially provide a better explanation of the neural mechanisms that underlie declines in auditory processing and training benefits.