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The transient nature of executive control processes in younger and older adults

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In this paper I review data from recent studies supporting the hypothesis that executive control processes fluctuate in efficiency over time and that these fluctuations are more pervasive in older than younger adults. Patterns of response accuracy in tasks requiring selective attention and prospective memory reveal that lapses of intention are often preceded and followed by periods of goal-directed action. Analysis of response time distributions reveals that increased performance variability in older adults for task conditions requiring executive control results from an increase in the degree of positive skewing of the distribution. Together, these findings lead to the suggestion that disruptions of executive control processes supporting performance in demanding tasks are temporally limited in nature. Data from recent neurophysiological studies indicates a possible role of the prefrontal cortex in maintaining optimal levels of executive control.

Document Type: Regular Paper


Affiliations: University of Notre Dame, IN, USA

Publication date: March 1, 2001

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