Manual Versus Saccadic Assessment of Cognitive Inhibition and Switching in Young and Older Adults

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Abstract

Inhibition and switching deficits occur with healthy aging and many clinical conditions, compromising performance of daily tasks and thus quality of life. To assess deficits, saccade tasks have often been used, but they require access to expensive eye-tracking equipment and trained personnel. Moreover, with respect to switching, the aging literature suggests that easy-to-administer manual tasks may be more sensitive to deficits than saccade tasks. Here we directly compared the 2 response modalities for assessing inhibition and switching abilities and characterized changes associated with healthy aging. We measured in 60 young adults (18–24 years) and 60 older adults (60–72 years) performance on 3 brief tasks that varied in their requirement of inhibition and switching. All participants completed the 3 tasks twice—once making keypress and once making saccadic responses. Regarding assessment similarity across the 2 response modalities, manual and saccadic response variables significantly correlated (r > .2 in all cases). With respect to aging effects, manual responses showed robust inhibition (r = .52) and switching (r = .63) deficits whereas saccadic responses showed inhibition (r = .23) but not switching (r = .13) deficits. These results indicate that easy-to-administer keypress responses can be used to assess age-related declines in inhibition and switching abilities and that keypress responses show greater sensitivity than saccadic responses. Future research is needed to test whether these patterns extend to clinical populations with inhibition and switching deficits.

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