Switching between hands in a serial reaction time task: A comparison between young and old adults

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Abstract

Healthy aging is associated with a variety of functional and structural brain alterations. These age-related brain alterations have been assumed to negatively impact cognitive and motor performance. Especially important for the execution of everyday activities in older adults (OA) is the ability to perform movements that depend on both hands working together. However, bimanual coordination is typically deteriorated with increasing age. Hence, a deeper understanding of such age-related brain-behavior alterations might offer the opportunity to design future interventional studies in order to delay or even prevent the decline in cognitive and/or motor performance over the lifespan. Here, we examined to what extent the capability to acquire and maintain a novel bimanual motor skill is still preserved in healthy OA as compared to their younger peers (YA). For this purpose, we investigated performance of OA (n = 26) and YA (n = 26) in a bimanual serial reaction time task (B-SRTT), on two experimental sessions, separated by 1 week. We found that even though OA were generally slower in global response times, they showed preserved learning capabilities in the B-SRTT. However, sequence specific learning was more pronounced in YA as compared to OA. Furthermore, we found that switching between hands during B-SRTT learning trials resulted in increased response times (hand switch costs), a phenomenon that was more pronounced in OA. These hand switch costs were reduced in both groups over the time course of learning. More interestingly, there were no group differences in hand switch costs on the second training session. These results provide novel evidence that bimanual motor skill learning is capable of reducing age-related deficits in hand switch costs, a finding that might have important implications to prevent the age-related decline in sensorimotor function.

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Hoff, M., Trapp, S., Kaminski, E., Sehm, B., Steele, C. J., Villringer, A., & Ragert, P. (2015). Switching between hands in a serial reaction time task: A comparison between young and old adults. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 7(SEP). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2015.00176

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