Evidence that ageing yields improvements as well as declines across attention and executive functions

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Abstract

Many but not all cognitive abilities decline during ageing. Some even improve due to lifelong experience. The critical capacities of attention and executive functions have been widely posited to decline. However, these capacities are composed of multiple components, so multifaceted ageing outcomes might be expected. Indeed, prior findings suggest that whereas certain attention/executive functions clearly decline, others do not, with hints that some might even improve. We tested ageing effects on the alerting, orienting and executive (inhibitory) networks posited by Posner and Petersen’s influential theory of attention, in a cross-sectional study of a large sample (N = 702) of participants aged 58–98. Linear and nonlinear analyses revealed that whereas the efficiency of the alerting network decreased with age, orienting and executive inhibitory efficiency increased, at least until the mid-to-late 70s. Sensitivity analyses indicated that the patterns were robust. The results suggest variability in age-related changes across attention/executive functions, with some declining while others improve.

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Veríssimo, J., Verhaeghen, P., Goldman, N., Weinstein, M., & Ullman, M. T. (2022). Evidence that ageing yields improvements as well as declines across attention and executive functions. Nature Human Behaviour, 6(1), 97–110. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01169-7

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