Inhibition in aging: What is preserved? What declines? A meta-analysis

Psychon Bull Rev. 2018 Oct;25(5):1695-1716. doi: 10.3758/s13423-017-1384-7.


Aging has been assumed to go along with deficient inhibitory processes in cognitive performance. According to this inhibition deficit hypothesis, older adults are less able to suppress or ignore irrelevant thoughts and actions than young adults are. This hypothesis has been investigated in a large number of studies. We conducted a meta-analysis to determine whether there is an inhibition deficit in older age and whether this deficit is general or task-specific. We selected 176 studies in which young and older adults were tested on tasks commonly assumed to measure inhibition (i.e., the color Stroop, flanker, Simon, stop-signal, go/no-go, global-local, positive and negative compatibility tasks, as well as the paradigm assessing n-2 repetition costs in task switching). For most tasks (i.e., the color Stroop, flanker, and local tasks, as well as the n-2 repetition costs), the results speak against an inhibition deficit in older age. Only in a few tasks (i.e., the go/no-go and stop-signal tasks), older adults showed impaired inhibition. Moreover, for four tasks (i.e., the Simon, global, positive and negative compatibility tasks), the results suggest that more studies are necessary to draw a firm conclusion. Together, the present findings call into question the hypothesis of a general inhibition deficit in older age.

Keywords: Bayesian hypothesis testing; Cognitive control; Executive functions; Meta-analysis.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attention*
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cognition*
  • Executive Function*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reaction Time
  • Stroop Test
  • Young Adult