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date: 16 January 2021

Intraindividual Reaction Time Variability, Attention, and Age-Related Outcomeslocked

  • David BunceDavid BunceSchool of Psychology, University of Leeds
  •  and Sarah BauermeisterSarah BauermeisterDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Oxford

Summary

Intraindividual variability in the present context refers to the moment-to-moment variation in attentional or executive engagement over a given time period. Typically, it is measured using the response latencies collected across the trials of a behavioral neurocognitive task. In aging research, the measure has received a lot of recent interest as it may provide important insights into age-related cognitive decline and neuropathology as well as having potential as a neurocognitive assessment tool in healthcare settings. In the present chapter, we begin by reviewing the key empirical findings relating to age and intraindividual variability. Here, research shows that intraindividual variability increases with age and predicts a range of age-related outcomes including gait impairment, falls and errors more broadly, mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and mortality. Brain imaging research suggests that greater variability is associated with age-related or neuropathological changes to a frontal–cingulate–parietal network and that white matter compromise and dopamine depletion may be key underlying mechanisms. We then consider the cognitive and neurobiological theoretical underpinnings of the construct before providing a description of the various methods and metrics that have been used to compute measures of variability – reaction time cut-offs, raw and residualized intraindividual standard deviations, coefficient of variation, ex-Gaussian curve and fast Fourier transformation. A further section considers the range of neurocognitive tasks that have been used to assess intraindividual variability. Broadly, these tasks can be classified on a continuum of cognitive demands as psychomotor, executive control or higher-order cognitive tasks (e.g., episodic memory). Finally, we provide some pointers concerning the pressing issues that future research needs to address in the area. We conclude that the existing body of theoretical and empirical work underlines the potential of intraindividual reaction time variability measures as additions to the neuropsychological test batteries that are used in the early detection of a range of age-related neurocognitive disorders in healthcare settings.

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