The developmental trajectories of executive function from adolescence to old age

Heather J. Ferguson (Lead / Corresponding author), Victoria E. A. Brunsdon, Elisabeth E. F. Bradford

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Abstract

Executive functions demonstrate variable developmental and aging profiles, with protracted development into early adulthood and declines in older age. However, relatively few studies have specifically included middle-aged adults in investigations of age-related differences in executive functions. This study explored the age-related differences in executive function from late childhood through to old age, allowing a more informed understanding of executive functions across the lifespan. Three hundred and fifty participants aged 10 to 86 years-old completed a battery of tasks assessing the specific roles of inhibitory control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, and planning. Results highlighted continued improvement in working memory capacity across adolescence and into young adulthood, followed by declines in both working memory and inhibitory control, beginning from as early as 30-40 years old and continuing into older age. Analyses of planning abilities showed continued improvement across adolescence and into young adulthood, followed by a decline in abilities across adulthood, with a small (positive) change in older age. Interestingly, a dissociation was found for cognitive flexibility; switch costs decreased, yet mixing costs increased across the lifespan. The results provide a description of the developmental differences in inhibitory control, working memory, cognitive flexibility and planning, above any effects of IQ or SES, and highlight the importance of including middle-aged adults in studies seeking to establish a more comprehensive picture of age-related differences in executive function.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1382
Number of pages17
JournalScientific Reports
Volume11
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2021

Keywords

  • Cognitive ageing
  • Learning and memory

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