Age-based differences in task switching are moderated by executive control demands

Eich, Teal S.; MacKay-Brandt, Anna; Stern, Yaakov; Gopher, Daniel

Objectives: Recent work has identified different aspects of executive function that may underlie cognitive changes associated with age. The current study used a multifactorial design to investigate age sensitivity in the ability to shift between different task sets and the interaction of this ability with several specific aspects of executive control.

Method: A large, well-characterized sample of younger (n = 40) and clinically healthy older (n = 51) adults completed a task switching paradigm in which 3 aspects of executive control were manipulated between subjects: a) sensorimotor demand (the number of distinct stimulus-response options); b) stimulus-level interference (i.e., flanker effects); and c) updating/monitoring (the frequency of task switches).

Results: Unique age-related deficits were observed for different aspects of local task switching performance costs and updating/monitoring, but not for interference. Sensorimotor demand was also an important additional factor that interacted with task switching performance.

Discussion: Our findings suggest that task switching, coupled with infrequent and unexpected transitions from one task set to another, in the context of high motoric demands, is particularly difficult for older adults.


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The Journals of Gerontology: Series B

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May 4, 2021