Learning to Bypass the Central Bottleneck: Declining Automaticity with Advancing Age

Document Type



Psychology (Scripps)

Publication Date



Cognitive Psychology | Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Does advancing age reduce the ability to bypass the central bottleneck through task automatization? To answer this question, the authors asked 12 older adults and 20 young adults to first learn to perform an auditory–vocal task (low vs. high pitch) in 6 single-task sessions. Their dual-task performance was then assessed with a psychological refractory period paradigm, in which the highly practiced auditory–vocal task was presented as Task 2, along with an unpracticed visual–manual Task 1. Converging evidence indicated qualitative differences in dual-task performance with age: Whereas the vast majority of young adults bypassed the bottleneck, at most 1 of the 12 older adults was able to do so. Older adults are either reluctant to bypass the bottleneck (as a matter of strategy) or have lost the ability to automatize task performance.

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© 2010 American Psychological Association

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