On the relation of mean reaction time and intraindividual reaction time variability

Psychol Aging. 2009 Dec;24(4):841-57. doi: 10.1037/a0017799.


Researchers often statistically control for means when examining individual or age-associated differences in variances, assuming that the relation between the 2 is linear and invariant within and across individuals and age groups. We tested this assumption in the domain of working memory by applying variance-heterogeneity multilevel models to reaction times in the n-back task. Data are from the COGITO study, which comprises 101 younger and 103 older adults assessed in over 100 daily sessions. We found that relations between means and variances vary reliably across age groups and individuals, thereby contradicting the invariant linearity assumption. We argue that statistical control approaches need to be replaced by theoretical models that simultaneously estimate central tendency and dispersion of latencies and accuracies and illustrate this claim by applying the diffusion model to the same data. Finally, we note that differences in reliability between estimates for means and variances need to be considered when comparing their unique contributions to developmental outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reaction Time*
  • Space Perception
  • Young Adult