Consistent performance differences despite manipulation of cue switching variables in children and adults
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To compare the stability of task-switching abilities across children and adults, we created a task with four goals in mind. First, we aimed to test whether certain task manipulations would reduce differences in adult and child performance. We created a nine level switching task, with changes in response choice consistency, number of response choices, and number of cued tasks. Second, we wanted to assess possible performance transitions within the child age group. We did this by subdividing the child group into smaller age bins. Third, we aimed to measure any short-term improvement across the study session. To do so, we compared responses from the first level of the task to an identically formatted level 10. Finally, we created a second study to investigate the effects of a higher working memory demand With respect to our first goal, attempts to reduce differences in adult and child performance were largely unsuccessful; children were consistently slower, less accurate, and more affected by task-level manipulations than adults. Our performance assessment within the child group identified a transition where participants as young as 12 years in Experiment 1 and 14 years in Experiment 2 displayed more adult-like responses in response times. In both studies, as the child age increased, we observed gradual improvement in accuracy. Regarding our third goal, we found similar amounts of improvement in both response time and accuracy for both adult and child groups, despite the high starting level of performance in adults in both studies. Added cognitive demand in Experiment 2 promoted significantly more improvement in both age groups. Thus, these novel tasks temporarily improved task-switching abilities in children and adults within a single session. As a whole, these results reveal consistent differences in task switching performance between age groups, but also relative flexibility (in the short-term) within a given individual.