Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The speed-accuracy tradeoff in the elderly brain.

Sigh...even more information on my aging brain. The fact that I and other older folks take longer to respond when a task is presented can most charitably be attributed to our being more cautious about making errors, but Forstmann et al. find evidence that this behavior is not entirely voluntary, and can also be related to a decrease in brain connectivity with aging:
Even in the simplest laboratory tasks older adults generally take more time to respond than young adults. One of the reasons for this age-related slowing is that older adults are reluctant to commit errors, a cautious attitude that prompts them to accumulate more information before making a decision. This suggests that age-related slowing may be partly due to unwillingness on behalf of elderly participants to adopt a fast-but-careless setting when asked. We investigate the neuroanatomical and neurocognitive basis of age-related slowing in a perceptual decision-making task where cues instructed young and old participants to respond either quickly or accurately. Mathematical modeling of the behavioral data confirmed that cueing for speed encouraged participants to set low response thresholds, but this was more evident in younger than older participants. Diffusion weighted structural images suggest that the more cautious threshold settings of older participants may be due to a reduction of white matter integrity in corticostriatal tracts that connect the pre-SMA to the striatum. These results are consistent with the striatal account of the speed-accuracy tradeoff according to which an increased emphasis on response speed increases the cortical input to the striatum, resulting in global disinhibition of the cortex. Our findings suggest that the unwillingness of older adults to adopt fast speed-accuracy tradeoff settings may not just reflect a strategic choice that is entirely under voluntary control, but that it may also reflect structural limitations: age-related decrements in brain connectivity.

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