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J Exp Anal Behav. 2007 Nov;88(3):319-37.

Aging and intraindividual variability in performance: analyses of response time distributions.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130-4899, USA.


It has been suggested that older adults are more variable in their performance because they are more prone to lapses of either attention or intention. In the present experiment, 9 young and 9 older adults each performed nearly 2000 trials of a same-different judgment task. As expected, older adults were slower and more variable than young adults. When the age-related difference in speed was taken into account, however, the older adults were, if anything, less variable than the young adults. When younger and older adults' RT distributions were analyzed using quantile-quantile plots and by fitting ex-Gaussian and Weibull functions, there was no consistent evidence that older adults' distributions were more skewed than young adults', as would be predicted by age-related increases in lapses of attention or intention. Importantly, there was a positive, linear relation between RT and intraindividual variability, and the same relation was observed both within subjects (practice increased speed and reduced variability) as well as between subjects (regardless of age, slower individuals were more variable). Thus, the present results suggest that there may be a general law governing the relation between average RT and variability, and that the greater performance variability of older adults primarily reflects their greater average RTs.

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