Does Verbal Labeling Influence Age Differences in Proactive and Reactive Cognitive Control?


  • Kray Jutta
  • Schmitt Hannah
  • Heintz Sonja
  • Blaye Agnès

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The main goal of this study was to examine whether different types of verbal labeling can influence age-related changes in the dynamic control of behavior by inducing either a proactive or reactive mode of control. Proactive control is characterized by a strong engagement in maintaining task-relevant information to be optimally prepared while reactive control is characterized by a reactivation of task-related information during responding. To investigate dynamic shifts between these control modes, we applied the AX-Continuous-Performance-Task in 2 experiments that differed in the complexity of stimuli and types of labeling in children (range = 7-10 years), younger (range = 19-33 years), and older adults (range = 69-83 years). We expected that labeling the cue information would promote a shift from a reactive to a proactive control mode primarily in children and older adults, while labeling the probe information would result in a shift from a proactive to a reactive control mode primarily in younger adults. Results of both experiments indicated that children, younger, and older adults were equally engaged in cue processing and performed the task in a proactive manner. While cue labeling did not further promote performing the task proactively, probe labeling induced a shift to a reactive control mode, especially in children. In the first experiment, including younger children than in the second experiment, children had more problems than adults to reactivate cue information to overcome a strong response tendency. These findings support the view that verbal labeling can influence the regulation of behavior by selectively attracting attention to relevant information in a given task.

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