Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Planning and Task Management in Older Adults: Cooking Breakfast

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Planning and Task Management in Older Adults: Cooking Breakfast

Article excerpt

The article describes a simulated "cooking breakfast" task in which participants must remember to start and stop cooking five foods so that all the foods are "ready" at the same time. In between starting and stopping operations, the participants also carried out a "table-setting" task as a filler activity. The breakfast task yields various measures of multitasking and executive control. Groups of younger and older adults performed the task; half of the participants in each group were bilinguals and the other half were monolinguals. The results showed substantial age-related decrements in most measures of executive control. Additionally, older bilinguals showed some advantages in task management over their monolingual peers.

The ability to formulate an efficient plan is a crucial aspect of adaptive living. It is also necessary to retrieve the plan at appropriate times, and keep the overall goal in mind while carrying out actions required by the plan's subgoals. The complex cognitive activities comprising planning are thought to be mediated largely by the frontal lobes (Luria, 1966; Stuss & Benson, 1986), and this assumption is strongly supported by clinical studies showing impairments of planning in patients with frontal lobe lesions (Shallice, 1982; Shallice & Burgess, 1991). There is general agreement that planning is not a unitary construct (Morris & Ward, 2005; Stuss & Alexander, 2000). Instead, the ability to formulate and execute an efficient plan appears to depend on a variety of cognitive functions whose exact contributions vary substantially, depending on the subject matter of the planned activity and on the planner's experience with similar activities. In this vein, Burgess and colleagues recently proposed that "planning is an activity that can be supported by very many different cognitive processes-perhaps hundreds-and that different subsets of these are tapped by different planning tasks" (Burgess, Simons, Coates, & Channon, 2005). As a consequence, different tests of planning may not correlate highly with each other, and the way to understand performance is to analyze a task in terms of the cognitive components necessary for its successful completion and to assess task participants for their strength or weakness on these cognitive components.

Good planning clearly involves many high-level cognitive skills, including the ability to look ahead and mentally envisage the relevant situation and the ability to anticipate potential problems and think of ways to overcome them. When the plan is implemented, it is necessary to keep the big picture in mind, carry out actions at appropriate times, evaluate progress and adjust the plan if necessary, and avoid continuing with one set of actions when it is more efficient to switch to another set. In terms of the cognitive constructs studied in laboratory settings, good planning requires abstract reasoning and problem solving: especially, perhaps, analogical reasoning (in order to bring relevant expertise to bear on the current situation), working memory, prospective memory, and the ability to switch sets flexibly. Planning can be assessed in a variety of ways, many of which are discussed in a recent collection on the topic (Morris & Ward, 2005).

An important decision in constructing such assessments is how much the test situation should resemble real-life planning activities. At one extreme, researchers have studied logical problems such as the Tower of Hanoi or its occidental counterparts (see, e.g., Davies, 2005; Owen, 2005), but this approach may generalize only weakly to real-life tasks. Alternatively, one can study planning "in the field," an approach that has been used successfully in the shopping plan test (Burgess et al., 2005); the problem here is in isolating the specific cognitive components that may be impaired. An intermediate position has been taken by others who have constructed board games or virtual reality situations to mimic real-life settings (see, e. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.