"Aging and the neural correlates of executive function" in Executive function: development across the life span

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Chapter in a Book

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The idea that aging is associated with a decline in the efficiency of executive function has a long history in the literature (for an extended review see Braver & West, 2008). For the last three decades, commentators have argued that those cognitive functions supported by the prefrontal cortex are more sensitive to the effects of aging than those supported by posterior brain structures (Moscovitch & Winocur, 1992; West, 1996). While this conceptualization has evolved over the years (Davis, Dennis, Daselaar, Fleck, & Cabeza, 2008; Greenwood, 2000; Verhaeghen, 2011), as a reader of this chapter will see, executive function and the prefrontal cortex remain central to our understanding of the cognitive neuroscience of aging, as well as development cognitive neuroscience more generally (Cuevas, Rajan, & Bryant, Chapter 1, this volume; Crone, Peters, & Steinbeis, Chapter 3, this volume). The centrality of executive function for cognitive aging becomes clear when one considers that as much as 30% of the aging population may experience impairment of executive function (Denburg et al., 2007). A poignant example of the societal implications of age-related decline in executive function is highlighted in a paper by Fisher, Franklin, and Post (2014), wherein the authors analyzed decision making in prominent world leaders, many of whom continued to have significant political influence well into their 70s or 80s, finding that some proportion of our older leaders were likely experiencing significant decline in executive functions while still in office. Our understanding of the effects of aging on the neural basis of executive function has been enhanced by parallel …