Age Effects in Sequence-Construction for a Continuous Cognitive Task: Similar Sequence-Trends but Fewer Switch-Points.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Many real-life settings require decision makers to sort a predetermined set of outcomes or activities into a preferred sequence and people vary in whether they prefer to tackle the most challenging aspects first, leave them for the last, or intersperse them with less challenging outcomes. Prior research on age differences in sequence-preferences has focused on discrete and hypothetical events. The present study expands this work by examining sequence-preferences for a realistic, continuous, sustained, and cognitively challenging task.


Participants (N = 121, aged 21-86) were asked to complete 10 min of a difficult cognitive task (2-back), 10 min of an easy cognitive task (1-back), and 10 min of rest over the course of a 30-min interval. They could complete the tasks in any order and switch tasks as often as they wished and they were rewarded for correct performance. Additional measures included affective and physiological responses, task accuracy, time-perspective, and demographics.


The majority of participants constructed sequences with decreasing task difficulty. Preferences for the general trend of the sequence were not significantly related to age, but the number of switches among the tasks decreased with age, and task-switching tended to incur greater accuracy decrements among older as compared to younger adults.


We address potential methodological concerns, discuss theoretical implications, and consider potential real-life applications.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Löckenhoff, CE; Rutt, JL; Samanez-Larkin, GR; Gallagher, C; O'Donoghue, T; Reyna, VF

Published Date

  • March 2020

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 75 / 4

Start / End Page

  • 762 - 771

PubMed ID

  • 30107593

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC7328034

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1758-5368

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1079-5014

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/geronb/gby090


  • eng