Task switching across the life span: effects of age on general and specific switch costs

Dev Psychol. 2005 Jul;41(4):661-71. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.41.4.661.


The authors investigated age-related changes in executive control using an Internet-based task-switching experiment with 5,271 participants between the ages of 10 and 66 years. Speeded face categorization was required on the basis of gender (G) or emotion (E) in single task blocks (GGG... and EEE...) or switching blocks (GGEEGGEE...). General switch costs, the difference between switching block and single task block performance, decreased during development and then increased approximately linearly from age 18. In contrast, specific switch costs, the difference between switch trial and nonswitch trial performance in the switching block, were more stable across the same age range. These results demonstrate differential age effects in task-switching performance and provide a fine-grained analysis of switch costs from puberty to retirement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attention*
  • Child
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Emotions
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Middle Aged
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Problem Solving*
  • Reaction Time
  • Set, Psychology*