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Poster A109

Task-Related Interference in Older Adults: Behavioural and Electrophysiological Correlates of On- and Off-Task Thoughts

Poster Session A - Saturday, April 13, 2024, 2:30 – 4:30 pm EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Sarah Henderson1 (, A. D. Ryan2, Luke Atack3, Karen Campbell1; 1Brock University, 2Acadia University, 3McGill University

Mind wandering is typically characterized as a failure of attentional control, yet despite age-related executive function deficits, older adults typically report less mind wandering than younger adults during cognitive tasks and in daily life. Self-reported mind wandering episodes usually result in similar behavioural detriments in younger and older adults (e.g., greater reaction time variability, more task errors). However, the relatively few studies investigating the neural correlates of mind wandering and aging have revealed mixed findings, possibly because they typically rely on infrequent thought probes and therefore, few trials for neural analyses. In the current study, we propose a method to recover more task data by categorizing trials from a commonly used sustained attention to response task (SART) according to reaction time variability. Behavioural data (n=49 younger; n=40 older) revealed that compared to younger adults, older adults reported fewer mind wandering episodes, but showed similar behavioural impacts thereof. Further, in both age groups, subjective reports of mind wandering predicted the more objective sorting of trials into “on-” and “off-task” according to reaction time variability. Using these objectively sorted trials, we investigated two commonly reported EEG measures of mind wandering (diminished P1 and P3 amplitude) in 26 younger and 24 older adults and found that while neither group showed the expected P1 effect, the P3 was diminished in both age groups (albeit significantly less in older adults). Therefore, despite differences in the frequency and type of mind wandering in older adults, its behavioural and neural impacts appear to be similar.

Topic Area: EXECUTIVE PROCESSES: Monitoring & inhibitory control


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April 13–16  |  2024