, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 91-102

Development of and change in cognitive control: A comparison of children, young adults, and older adults


Cognitive control involves adjustments in behavior to conflicting information, develops throughout childhood, and declines in aging. Accordingly, developmental and age-related changes in cognitive control and response-conflict detection were assessed in a response-compatibility task. We recorded performance measures, pre-response time (pre-RT) activity and medial frontal negativity (MFN)—sequentially occurring, putative event-related potential (ERP) indexes, respectively, of cognitive control and response-conflict detection. When response conflict reached the highest levels by requiring incompatible responses on posterror trials, children and older adults showed the greatest performance decrements. ERPs indicated that young adults implemented control (pre-RT) and detected the increased conflict (MFN) only when that conflict was at the highest levels, whereas children and older adults did so at lower levels (e.g., posterror, compatible responses). Consequently, the developmental and age-related performance decrements observed here may be due to the undifferentiated and inefficient manner in which children and older adults recruited the processes associated with both cognitive control and response-conflict detection.

The research reported in this article was supported by grants from the NIA (AG05213) and NICHD (HD14959) and by the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene.