Currently there are several lines of research in the Cognitive Control and Aging lab including:
Levels of Cognitive Control
Cognitive control is engaged at multiple levels (globally, contextually such as on a location by location basis, and at the item level) with various contextual and participant-related variables constraining this engagement. For instance, older adults (60+ years of age) have difficulty engaging control at the global level but not the context or item level. We have developed methods for isolating the various levels of control, dissociating them from associative learning mechanisms, and exploring their interactivity. Current questions include:
o What insights can pupillometry provide regarding the roles of awareness and effort in modulations of cognitive control?
o Do the various levels of control reflect operation of the same or different mechanisms (e.g., filtering, expectation vs. experience-driven adjustments)?
o What factors facilitate versus impair switching between levels of control?
o Why does aging seemingly spare “lower” levels of control?
Mind wandering occurs when attention is shifted from the external to the internal. Older adults report less mind wandering than young adults. We are currently investigating three questions:
o What effect does increasing demands on cognitive control have on various forms of mind wandering?
o How can pupillometry be used to track mind wandering and differentiate various types of distraction?
o What is the locus of the age-related difference in self-reported mind wandering?
Prospective memory refers to the ability to remember to perform an action at the appropriate time in the future. Resource-demanding monitoring processes and/or spontaneous retrieval support successful prospective remembering. We investigate both the ability to remember to fulfill an intention and the ability to deactivate no-longer relevant intentions. Our research has found that young adults and older adults are vulnerable to commission errors—the erroneous performance of a no-longer relevant intention. However, older adults are more vulnerable than young adults when faced with deactivating an intention that has been performed repeatedly (e.g., medication taking). Current questions include:
o What translational strategies may be used to decrease commission error risk?
o What are the roles of attention and habit in commission errors?
o What mechanisms explain the Zeigarnik-like pattern whereby commission errors are very common for intentions that were never performed (i.e., are unfulfilled)?
o Under what conditions do young and older adults strategically adjust the allocation of monitoring resources to support prospective memory?
Education and Training
Building on the EXACT trial in which we found benefits of a multi-faceted approach to cognitive training for improving prospective memory in older adults, we are about to begin a NIA-funded investigation examining the effects of cognitive training and collaborative engagement on several important outcomes. The first is prospective and retrospective memory performance, in addition to neuropsychological functioning. The second is eHealth literacy—especially older adults’ ability to evaluate and use health-related information from the Internet to support health-related decision-making.