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Neuroimage. 2013 Jan 1;64:209-15. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.09.039. Epub 2012 Sep 20.

Does variability in cognitive performance correlate with frontal brain volume?

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Center for Lifespan Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany.


Little is known about the neural correlates of within-person variability in cognitive performance. We investigated associations between regional brain volumes and trial-to-trial, block-to-block, and day-to-day variability in choice-reaction time, and episodic and working memory accuracy. Healthy younger (n=25) and older (n=18) adults underwent 101 daily assessments of cognitive performance, and their regional brain volumes were measured manually on magnetic resonance images. Results showed that smaller prefrontal white matter volumes were associated with higher block-to-block variability in choice-reaction time performance, with a stronger association observed among older adults. Smaller volumes of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex covaried with higher block-to-block variability in episodic memory (number-word pair) performance. This association was stronger for younger adults. The observed associations between variability and brain volume were not due to individual differences in mean performance. Trial-to-trial and day-to-day variability in cognitive performance were unrelated to regional brain volume. We thus report novel findings demonstrating that block-by-block variability in cognitive performance is associated with integrity of the prefrontal regions and that between-person differences in different measures of variability of cognitive performance reflect different age-related constellations of behavioral and neural antecedents.

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