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Int J Psychophysiol. 2010 Jun;76(3):123-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2010.02.007. Epub 2010 Mar 1.

Autonomic predictors of Stroop performance in young and middle-aged adults.

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Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.


Although changes in autonomic activity have been extensively examined as responses to cognitive challenges, relatively few studies have used individual differences in autonomic parameters to predict executive performance in healthy adults. Here we examined baseline and task-related changes in heart rate and heart rate variability (measured by respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA)) to predict performance of a pictorial Stroop task in a group of 81 healthy adults aged 17-55. Greater autonomic reactivity (increased heart rate and reduced RSA for task performance) was associated with faster colour naming of faces in the Stroop task. Dividing the group by median age revealed that middle-aged adults reduced RSA to a greater degree than their younger counterparts in the context of equivalent performance across groups. Findings suggest that performance of executive function tasks that evoke attentional control may depend in part on the responsiveness of autonomic control parameters via age-dependent mechanisms.

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