Autonomic and Electrophysiological Correlates of Cognitive Control in Aging
MetadataShow full item record
This thesis tested a model of neurovisceral integration (Thayer & Lane, 2001) wherein parasympathetic autonomic regulation is considered to play a central role in cognitive control. We asked whether respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), a parasympathetic index, and cardiac workload (rate pressure product, RPP) would influence cognition and whether this would change with age. Cognitive control was measured behaviourally and electrophysiologically through the error-related negativity (ERN) and error positivity (Pe). The ERN and Pe are thought to be generated by the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a region involved in regulating cognitive and autonomic control and susceptible to age-related change. In Study 1, older and younger adults completed a working memory Go/NoGo task. Although RSA did not relate to performance, higher pre-task RPP was associated with poorer NoGo performance among older adults. Relations between ERN/Pe and accuracy were indirect and more evident in younger adults. Thus, Study 1 supported the link between cognition and autonomic activity, specifically, cardiac workload in older adults. In Study 2, we included younger adults and manipulated a Stroop task to clarify conditions under which associations between RSA and performance will likely emerge. We varied task parameters to allow for proactive versus reactive strategies, and motivation was increased via financial incentive. Pre-task RSA predicted accuracy when response contingencies required maintenance of a specific item in memory. Thus, RSA was most relevant when performance required proactive control, a metabolically costly strategy that would presumably be more reliant on autonomic flexibility. In Study 3, we included older adults and examined RSA and proactive control in an additive factors framework. We maintained the incentive and measured fitness. Higher pre-task RSA among older adults was associated with greater accuracy when proactive control was needed most. Conversely, performance of young women was consistently associated with fitness. Relations between ERN/Pe and accuracy were modest; however, isolating ACC activity via independent component analysis allowed for more associations with accuracy to emerge in younger adults. Thus, performance in both groups appeared to be differentially dependent on RSA and ACC activation. Altogether, these data are consistent with a neurovisceral integration model in the context of cognitive control.