Dual-Task Processing in Younger and Older Adults: Similarities and Differences Revealed by fMRI

Document Type



Psychology (Scripps)

Publication Date



Cognitive Psychology | Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


fMRI was used to explore age differences in the neural substrate of dual-task processing. Brain activations when there was a 100 ms SOA between tasks, and task overlap was high, were contrasted with activations when there was a 1000 ms SOA, and first task processing was largely complete before the second task began. Younger adults (M = 21 yrs) showed activation in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and in parietal areas as well as in ventral medial frontal cortex and sub-lobar areas. Activations in older adults (M = 71 yrs) did not differ significantly from younger adults except for higher activations in occipital and polar prefrontal cortex. The results were well fit by a model with two networks managing dual-task interference, a medial prefrontal network that detects changes in the stimulus situation and maps them to associated changes in the valence of response mappings and a lateral frontal–parietal network that initiates and carries out the shift from one task to the other. The additional activations in older adults as a group and the correlations of individual differences in activation with performance were consistent with recruitment within each of these networks. Alternative explanations such as hemispheric asymmetry reduction and reactive rather than proactive processing in older adults were not supported.

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