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Neuropsychology. 2010 May;24(3):300-15. doi: 10.1037/a0018274.

Effects of healthy aging and early stage dementia of the Alzheimer's type on components of response time distributions in three attention tasks.

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  • 1Department of Educational Psychology, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.



The characteristics of response time (RT) distributions beyond measures of central tendency were explored in 3 attention tasks across groups of young adults, healthy older adults, and individuals with very mild dementia of the Alzheimer's type (DAT).


Participants were administered computerized Stroop, Simon, and switching tasks, along with psychometric tasks that tap various cognitive abilities and a standard personality inventory (NEO-FFI). Ex-Gaussian (and Vincentile) analyses were used to capture the characteristics of the RT distributions for each participant across the 3 tasks, which afforded 3 components: mu and sigma (mean and standard deviation of the modal portion of the distribution) and tau (the positive tail of the distribution).


The results indicated that across all 3 attention tasks, healthy aging produced large changes in the central tendency mu parameter of the distribution along with some change in sigma and tau (mean etap(2) = .17, .08, and .04, respectively). In contrast, early stage DAT primarily produced an increase in the tau component (mean etap(2) = .06). tau was also correlated with the psychometric measures of episodic/semantic memory, working memory, and processing speed, and with the personality traits of neuroticism and conscientiousness. Structural equation modeling indicated a unique relation between a latent tau construct (-.90), as opposed to sigma (-.09) and mu constructs (.24), with working memory measures.


The results suggest a critical role of attentional control systems in discriminating healthy aging from early stage DAT and the utility of RT distribution analyses to better specify the nature of such change.

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