Differences between young and older adults in unity and diversity of executive functions

Elizabeth L. Glisky, Gene E. Alexander, Mingzhu Hou, Kevin Kawa, Cindy B. Woolverton, Erika K. Zigman, Lauren A. Nguyen, Kari Haws, Aurelio J. Figueredo, Lee Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Miyake and colleagues (2000) identified three independent but correlated components of executive function in young adults–set shifting, inhibition, and updating. The present study compared the factor structure in young adults to two groups of older adults (ages 60–73 and 74–98). A three-factor model of shifting, inhibition and updating was confirmed in young adults, but the factors were weakly or uncorrelated. In both older groups, a two-factor solution was indicated, updating/inhibition and shifting, which were moderately correlated in young-older adults, and strongly correlated in the old-older group. A nested factors model in the oldest group revealed a common factor, which loaded on all but one of the tests, and a shifting-specific factor. We concluded that in young adulthood, shifting, updating and inhibition may operate relatively independently. As people age and processing becomes less efficient, they may rely increasingly on general executive control processes, reallocating their limited resources to optimize performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)829-854
Number of pages26
JournalAging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2021


  • Aging
  • confirmatory factor analysis
  • executive functions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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