The animal literature suggests that exposure to more complex, novel environments promotes neurogenesis and cognitive performance in older animals. Studies in humans indicate that participation in intellectually stimulating activities may serve as a buffer against mental decline and help to sustain cognitive abilities. Here, we show that across old adults, increased responsiveness to novel events (as measured by viewing duration and the size of the P3 event-related potential) is strongly linked to better performance on neuropsychological tests, especially those involving attention/executive functions. Cognitively high performing old adults generate a larger P3 response to visual stimuli than cognitively average performing adults. These results suggest that cognitively high performing adults successfully manage the task by appropriating more resources and that the increased size of their P3 component represents a beneficial compensatory mechanism rather than less efficient processing.

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