Age Differences and Changes in Reaction Time: The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging

Fozard, J.L., Vercruyssen, M., Reynolds, S.L., Hancock, P.A., & Quilter, R.E. (1994). Age differences and changes in reaction time: The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 49(4), 179-189.

This study analyzed auditory reaction time (RT) data from 1,265 community-dwelling volunteers (833 males and 432 females) who ranged in age from 17 to 96. Cross-sectional analyses revealed slowing of simple (SRT) and relatively greater slowing of disjunctive (DRT; aka “go-no-go”) reaction time across decades for both males and females. Repeated testing within participants (longitudinal analyses) over eight years showed consistent slowing and increased variability with age. Males were faster than females cross age groups, RT tasks, and visits. Beginning at about age 20, RTs increased at a rate of approximately 0.5 msec/yr for SRT and 1.6 msec/yr for DRT. Errors also increased, making unlikely a tradeoff of accuracy for faster responses. The findings are consistent with the hypotheses that slowing of behavior is: (a) a continuous process over the adult life span; (b) characterized by age-associated increases in within-participant variability; (c) a direct function of task complexity and, presumably, the degree of mediation by higher regions in the central nervous system; and (d) greater in women than men.

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