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13-06-2020 | Original Article

Age differences in diffusion model parameters: a meta-analysis

Tijdschrift:
Psychological Research
Auteurs:
Maximilian Theisen, Veronika Lerche, Mischa von Krause, Andreas Voss
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s00426-020-01371-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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Abstract

Older adults typically show slower response times in basic cognitive tasks than younger adults. A diffusion model analysis allows the clarification of why older adults react more slowly by estimating parameters that map distinct cognitive components of decision making. The main components of the diffusion model are the speed of information uptake (drift rate), the degree of conservatism regarding the decision criterion (boundary separation), and the time taken up by non-decisional processes (i.e., encoding and motoric response execution; non-decision time). While the literature shows consistent results regarding higher boundary separation and longer non-decision time for older adults, results are more complex when it comes to age differences in drift rates. We conducted a multi-level meta-analysis to identify possible sources of this variance. As possible moderators, we included task difficulty and task type. We found that age differences in drift rate are moderated both by task type and task difficulty. Older adults were inferior in drift rate in perceptual and memory tasks, but information accumulation was even increased in lexical decision tasks for the older participants. Additionally, in perceptual and lexical decision tasks, older individuals benefitted from high task difficulty. In the memory tasks, task difficulty did not moderate the negative impact of age on drift. The finding of higher boundary separation and longer non-decision time in older than younger adults generalized over task type and task difficulty. The results of our meta-analysis are consistent with recent findings of a more pronounced age-related decline in memory than in vocabulary performance.

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