Age-related differences in BOLD modulation to cognitive control costs in a multitasking paradigm: Global switch, local switch, and compatibility-switch costs

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It is well documented that older adults recruit additional brain regions compared to those recruited by younger adults while performing a wide variety of cognitive tasks. However, it is unclear how such age-related over-recruitment interacts with different types of cognitive control, and whether this over-recruitment is compensatory. To test this, we used a multitasking paradigm, which allowed us to examine age-related over-activation associated with three types of cognitive costs (i.e., global switch, local switch, compatibility-switch costs). We found age-related impairments in global switch cost (GSC), evidenced by slower response times for maintaining and coordinating two tasks vs. performing only one task. However, no age-related declines were observed in either local switch cost (LSC), a cognitive cost associated with switching between the two tasks while maintaining two task loads, or compatibility-switch cost (CSC), a cognitive cost associated with incompatible vs. compatible stimulus-response mappings across the two tasks. The fMRI analyses allowed for identification of distinct cognitive cost-sensitive brain regions associated with GSC and LSC. In fronto-parietal GSC and LSC regions, older adults' increased activations were associated with poorer performance (greater costs), whereas a reverse relationship was observed in younger adults. Older adults also recruited additional fronto-parietal brain regions outside the cognitive cost-sensitive areas, which was associated with poorer performance or no behavioral benefits. Our results suggest that older adults exhibit a combination of inefficient activation within cognitive cost-sensitive regions, specifically the GSC and LSC regions, and non-compensatory over-recruitment in age-sensitive regions. Age-related declines in global switching, compared to local switching, was observed earlier in old age at both neural and behavioral levels.

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