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13-10-2017 | Original Article | Uitgave 1/2018

Psychological Research 1/2018

Task intentions and their implementation into actions: cognitive control from adolescence to middle adulthood

Psychological Research > Uitgave 1/2018
Edita Poljac, Rianne Haartsen, Renske van der Cruijsen, Andrea Kiesel, Ervin Poljac


Cognitive control processes involved in human multitasking arise, mature, and decline across age. This study investigated how age modulates cognitive control at two different levels: the level of task intentions and the level of the implementation of intentions into the corresponding actions. We were particularly interested in specifying maturation of voluntary task choice (intentions) and task-switching execution (their implementations) between adolescence and middle adulthood. Seventy-four participants were assigned to one of the four age groups (adolescents, 12–17 years; emerging adults, 18–22 years; young adults, 23–27 years; middle-aged adults, 28–56 years). Participants chose between two simple cognitive tasks at the beginning of each trial before pressing a spacebar to indicate that the task choice was made. Next, a stimulus was presented in one of the three adjacent boxes, with participants identifying either the location or the shape of the stimulus, depending on their task choice. This voluntary task-switching paradigm allowed us to investigate the intentional component (task choice) separately from its implementation (task execution). Although all participants showed a tendency to repeat tasks more often than switching between them, this repetition bias was significantly stronger in adolescents than in any adult group. Furthermore, participants generally responded slower after task switches than after task repetitions. This switch cost was similar across tasks in the two younger groups but larger for the shape than the location task in the two older groups. Together, our results demonstrate that both task intentions and their implementation into actions differ across age in quite specific ways.

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