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Dev Psychol. 2001 Sep;37(5):715-30.

Changes in executive control across the life span: examination of task-switching performance.

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Beckman Institute and Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 61801, USA.


A study was conducted to examine changes in executive control processes over the life span. More specifically, changes in processes responsible for preparation and interference control that underlie the ability to flexibly alternate between two different tasks were examined. Individuals (N = 152) ranging in age from 7 to 82 years participated in the study. A U-shaped function was obtained for switch costs (i.e., the time required to switch between tasks compared with a repeated-task baseline), with larger costs found for young children and older adults. Switch costs were reduced with practice, particularly for children. All age groups benefited from increased preparation time, with larger benefits observed for children and older adults. Adults benefited to a greater extent than children when the interval between the response to one task and the cue indicating which task to perform next was lengthened, which suggested faster decay of interference from the old task set for adults than for children. A series of hierarchical analyses indicated that the age-related variance in task-switching performance is independent, at least in part, from the age-related variance in other cognitive processes such as perceptual speed and working memory. The results are discussed in terms of the development and decline of executive control processes across the life span.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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