Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Development of and Change in Cognitive Control: A Comparison of Children, Young Adults, and Older Adults

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Development of and Change in Cognitive Control: A Comparison of Children, Young Adults, and Older Adults

Article excerpt

Cognitive control involves adjustments in behavior to conflicting information, develops throughout childhood, and declines in aging. Accordingly, developmental and age-related changes in cognitive control and response- conflict detection were assessed in a response-compatibility task. We recorded performance measures, pre-response time (pre-RT) activity and medial frontal negativity (MFN)-sequentially occurring, putative event-related potential (ERP) indexes, respectively, of cognitive control and response-conflict detection. When response conflict reached the highest levels by requiring incompatible responses on posterror trials, children and older adults showed the greatest performance decrements. ERPs indicated that young adults implemented control (pre-RT) and detected the increased conflict (MFN) only when that conflict was at the highest levels, whereas children and older adults did so at lower levels (e.g., posterror, compatible responses). Consequently, the developmental and age-related performance decrements observed here may be due to the undifferentiated and inefficient manner in which children and older adults recruited the processes associated with both cognitive control and response-conflict detection.

The term executive processing is used to describe a variety of cognitive functions that work separately and in concert to control and coordinate the selection and execution of willed actions. Such processing is a vital aspect of one's ability to adapt quickly and accurately to changing environmental circumstances. As summarized in the conflict- monitoring theory (Botvinick, Braver, Barch, Carter, & Cohen, 2001; Botvinick, Cohen, & Carter, 2004; but see Holroyd & Coles, 2002), it is thought that these executive processes control actions by providing the means to both (1) monitor and detect response conflicts and (2) upregulate cognitive control whenever interference arises from competing information streams, such as when a prepotent response must be inhibited and overridden (Bunge, Dudukovic, Thomason, Vaidya, & Gabrieli, 2002; Johnson, Barnhardt, & Zhu, 2004).

A wide variety of evidence, including neuroanatomical (Huttenlocher & Dabholkar, 1997), event-related potential (ERP; Friedman, Nessler, Johnson, Ritter, & Bersick, 2008), structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI; Raz, Gunning-Dixon, Head, Dupuis, & Acker, 1998), and functional MRI (fMRI; van Veen & Carter, 2006), indicates that such control processes depend critically on the prefrontal cortex and its interconnections. Specifically, in the conflict-monitoring model, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) monitors and detects the conflict, whereas regions such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (Kerns et al., 2004) are responsible for implementing top-down control (Botvinick et al., 2004). Relative to other brain regions, the prefrontal cortex appears to undergo a more protracted developmental course through adolescence and early adulthood (Sowell et al., 2003) and, as individuals age, shows greater alteration than do other brain areas (Raz, 2000). Therefore, the goal of the present study was to assess life-span changes in the monitoring and detection of response conflict and in the upregulation of cognitive control, using performance indexes and ERP components that putatively emanate from the prefrontal cortex.

In the present experiment, response conflict was manipulated via the creation of compatible- and incompatibleresponse conditions. In the latter, participants were required to respond in the direction opposite that indicated by a central arrow (Ridderinkhof, van der Molen, Band, & Bashore, 1997), requiring what Botvinick et al. (2004) have termed response override. The requirement to generate incompatible relative to compatible responses leads to slowing of response time (RT) and to increased error rates (Ridderinkhof et al., 1997; see also Nessler, Friedman, Johnson, & Bersick, 2007). …

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