Attentional updating and monitoring and affective shifting are impacted independently by aging in macaque monkeys

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Abstract

One hallmark of the normal cognitive aging process involves alterations in executive function. Executive function can be divided into at least three separable components, including set shifting, attentional updating and monitoring, and inhibition of prepotent responses. The ability to study the neural basis of cognitive aging has been enriched by the use of animal models such as the macaque monkey. In aged macaques, changes in attentional updating and monitoring systems are poorly understood compared to changes in shifting and inhibition. A partial explanation for this is the fact that the tasks designed to study executive function in aged monkeys, to date, primarily have probed shifting and inhibition processes. Here we examine how aging impacts attentional updating and monitoring processes in monkeys using an interference task designed after a paradigm used to examine multi-tasking in older humans. Young and aged macaque monkeys were tested on this interference task as well as on an object reversal learning task to study these processes in the same animals. Relative to the young monkeys, aged animals were impaired on both tasks. Proactive and retroactive interference did not differ between age groups on an array of 40 object pairs presented each day in the object reversal learning task. The levels of performance on the interference task were not correlated with levels of performance in the object reversal task. These results suggest that attentional updating and monitoring and affective shifting are separable functions in the macaque, and that normal aging affects these mental operations independently.

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