Increasing evidence suggests that brain variability plays a number of important functional roles for neural systems. However, the relationship between brain variability and changing cognitive demands remains understudied. In the current study, we demonstrate experimental condition-based modulation in brain variability using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Within a sample of healthy younger and older adults, we found that blood oxygen level-dependent signal variability was an effective discriminator between fixation and external cognitive demand. Across a number of regions, brain variability increased broadly on task compared with fixation, particularly in younger and faster performing adults. Conversely, older and slower performing adults exhibited fewer changes in brain variability within and across experimental conditions and brain regions, indicating a reduction in variability-based neural specificity. Increases in brain variability on task may represent a more complex neural system capable of greater dynamic range between brain states, as well as an enhanced ability to efficiently process varying and unexpected external stimuli. The current results help establish the developmental and performance correlates of state-to-state brain variability-based transitions and offer a new line of inquiry in the study of rest versus task modes in the human brain.