Positron emission tomography data (Madden, Langley, et al., 2002) were analyzed to investigate adult age differences in the relation between neural activation and the lexical (word frequency) and sublexical (word length) components of visual word identification. The differential influence of these components on reaction time (RT) for word/nonword discrimination (lexical decision) was generally similar for the two age groups, with word frequency accounting for a greater proportion of lexical decision RT variance relative to word length. The influence of word length on RT, however, was relatively greater for older adults. Activation in regions of the ventral occipito-temporal cortex was related to the RT changes associated with word frequency and length for older adults, but not for younger adults. Specifically, older adults' frequency effects were related to activation in both anterior (Brodmann's area [BA] 37) and posterior (BAs 17 and 18) regions of the occipito-temporal pathway, whereas word length effects were only associated with posterior activation (BA 17). We conclude that aging affects the neural mechanisms supporting word identification performance although behavioral measures of this ability are generally constant as a function of age.

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