Differential effects of aging on executive and automatic inhibition

Pilar Andres, Chiara Guerrini, Louise H. Phillips, Timothy J. Perfect

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

119 Citations (Scopus)


One of the major accounts of cognitive aging states that age effects are related to a deficiency of inhibitory mechanisms (Hasher & Zacks, 1988). Given that inhibition has traditionally been associated with the frontal cortex, and that the frontal cortex deteriorates early with age (Raz, 2000), this is consistent with the frontal hypothesis of aging (West, 1996). However, not all inhibitory processes require executive control, and so they are not all equally supported by the frontal cortex. As a consequence, one would expect dissociations between inhibitory tasks in the sense of a greater susceptibility of executive/frontal inhibition to aging. Based on Nigg's (2000) working inhibition taxonomy, we tested this hypothesis by combining inhibitory paradigms with different levels of executive control within the same participants. The results showed that age affects Stroop interference but not negative priming (Experiment 1) and stop signal responsiveness but not negative priming (Experiment 2). These findings suggest that tasks with a high executive (or effortful) inhibitory control are more sensitive to aging than tasks with a lower executive (more automatic) inhibitory control. The results are discussed in relation to the inhibitory and frontal accounts of aging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-123
Number of pages23
JournalDevelopmental Neuropsychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2008


  • adult age-differences
  • color-word task
  • frontal-lobe lesions
  • older-adults
  • working-memory
  • selective attention
  • response-inhibition
  • Alzheimers-disease
  • life-span
  • stroop


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