Should We Stop Thinking About Inhibition? Searching for Individual and Age Differences in Inhibition Ability

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Abstract

Inhibition is often conceptualized as a unitary construct reflecting the ability to ignore and suppress irrelevant information. At the same time, it has been subdivided into inhibition of prepotent responses (i.e., the ability to stop dominant responses) and resistance to distracter interference (i.e., the ability to ignore distracting information). The present study investigated the unity and diversity of inhibition as a psychometric construct, and tested the hypothesis of an inhibition deficit in older age. We measured inhibition in young and old adults with 11 established laboratory tasks: antisaccade, stop-signal, color Stroop, number Stroop, arrow flanker, letter flanker, Simon, global-local, positive and negative compatibility tasks, and n-2 repetition costs in task switching. In both age groups, the inhibition measures from individual tasks had good reliabilities, but correlated only weakly among each other. Structural equation modeling identified a 2-factor model with factors for inhibition of prepotent responses and resistance to distracter interference. Older adults scored worse in the inhibition of prepotent response, but better in the resistance to distracter interference. However, the model had low explanatory power. Together, these findings call into question inhibition as a psychometric construct and the hypothesis of an inhibition deficit in older age.

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