Recent work has demonstrated that explicit error detection relies on a neural evidence accumulation process that can be traced in the human electroencephalogram (EEG). Here, we sought to establish the impact of natural aging on this process by recording EEG from young (18-35 years) and older adults (65-88 years) during the performance of a Go/No-Go paradigm in which participants were required to overtly signal their errors. Despite performing the task with equivalent accuracy, older adults reported substantially fewer errors, and the timing of their reports were both slower and more variable. These behavioral differences were linked to three key neurophysiological changes reflecting distinct parameters of the error detection decision process: a reduction in medial frontal delta/theta (2-7 Hz) activity, indicating diminished top-down input to the decision process; a slower rate of evidence accumulation as indexed by the rate of rise of a centro-parietal signal, known as the error positivity; and a higher motor execution threshold as indexed by lateralized beta-band (16-30 Hz) activity. Our data provide novel insight into how the natural aging process affects the neural underpinnings of error detection.
Keywords: Cognitive aging; Electroencephalography; Error awareness; Metacognition; Neurophysiology.
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