Aging and error processing: age related increase in the variability of the error-negativity is not accompanied by increase in response variability

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BACKGROUND: Several studies report an amplitude reduction of the error negativity (Ne or ERN), an event-related potential occurring after erroneous responses, in older participants. In earlier studies it was shown that the Ne can be explained by a single independent component. In the present study we aimed to investigate whether the Ne reduction usually found in older subjects is due to an altered component structure, i.e., a true alteration in response monitoring in older subjects.

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Two age groups conducted two tasks with different stimulus response mappings and task difficulty. Both groups received fully balanced speed or accuracy instructions and an individually adapted deadline in both tasks. Event-related potentials, Independent Component analysis of EEG-data and between trial variability of the Ne were combined with analysis of error rates, coefficients of variation of RT-data and ex-Gaussian fittings to reaction times. The Ne was examined by means of ICA and PCA, yielding a prominent independent component on error trials, the Ne-IC. The Ne-IC was smaller in the older than the younger subjects for both speed and accuracy instructions. Also, the Ne-IC contributed to a much lesser extent to the Ne in older than in younger subjects. RT distribution parameters were not related to Ne/ERP-variability.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: The results show a genuine reduction as well as a different component structure of the Ne in older compared to young subjects. This reduction is not reflected in behaviour, apart from a general slowing of older participants. Also, the Ne decline in the elderly is not due to speed accuracy trade-off. Hence, the results indicate that older subjects can compensate the reduction in control reflected in the reduced Ne, at least in simple tasks that induce reaction slips.

ZeitschriftPloS one
Seiten (von - bis)e17482
PublikationsstatusVeröffentlicht - 01.01.2011

ID: 224317


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