The Aging of Executive Functions Essay

10479 WordsNov 19, 201242 Pages
The Aging of Executive Functions Karen A. Daniels Jeffrey P. Toth and Larry L. Jacoby Washington University in St. Louis June 9, 2004 To appear in F. I. M. Craik and E. Bialystok (Eds.), Lifespan Cognition: Mechanisms of Change. [9,906 words (text + references)] Address correspondence to: Larry L. Jacoby Department of Psychology Washington University St. Louis, MO 63130 Phone: (314) 935-6795 Fax: (314) 935-7588 Email: lljacoby@artsci.wustl.edu The Aging of Executive Functions For many young adults, the idea of retirement brings to mind carefree days of rest and relaxation. Yet speak to any retiree and the discussion is likely to revolve around more complex issues such as how best to maintain one's health or financial security. As these two topics attest, old age can be a time that requires decisions as large in number and importance as those faced by much younger adults. The ability to effectively make such decisions has been attributed to executive functions—a loosely defined set of cognitive skills and processes that appear critical for complex thought and behavior. In this chapter, we explore the issue of how to best define and measure executive functions and their change with age. The dominant approach to measuring executive functions can best be described as task-based. That is, one chooses a task or set of tasks that one believes taps executive functions (e.g., Stroop, A-not-B, WCST) and then determines if performance on such tasks is sensitive to childhood development, frontal lobe damage, or aging. This approach has served the field well by delineating the scope of executive functions and identifying a set of candidate processes that appear fundamental in mediating complex thought and behavior (processes such as working memory, inhibition, and set shifting; see Diamond, this volume). In this

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