Training for executive control: Task coordination strategies and aging

Arthur F. Kramer, John L. Larish, Timothy A. Weber, Lynn Bardell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our study examined the development of an executive control skill, the ability to successfully coordinate the performance of multiple tasks. More specifically, we examined the efficacy of two different multiple-task training strategies: variable priority (VP) training and fixed priority (FP) training for the acquisition, retention, and transfer of task coordination skills for both young and old adults. Older and younger adults were trained on a canceling and a tracking task using both repeating and random sequences. Subjects were then asked to perform several novel versions of the tasks to evaluate learning of the repeated patterns in the single- and dual-task conditions. Subjects were next transferred to a novel set of tasks, monitoring and alphabet arithmetic, to examine the generalizability of task coordination skills acquired during VP and FP training. Finally, retention of the original training tasks was assessed in single- and dual-task conditions 45 to 60 days after the conclusion of the training intervention. Subjects trained with the VP procedure learned the training tasks more quickly and exhibited a higher level of mastery on the tasks than did subjects trained with the FP technique. Furthermore, the age-related decrement in dual-task performance observed prior to training was substantially reduced for VP subjects, but not for FP subjects. A microanalysis of the tracking data indicated that the VP training benefit could be attributed to both reduced response interference and more rapid allocation of attention between the two tasks. Finally, subjects trained with the VP procedure exhibited better transfer to novel tasks and higher levels of retention than did FP-trained subjects. These results are discussed in terms of the acquisition of executive control skills, particularly skills involving the coordination of concurrently performed tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)616-652
Number of pages37
JournalAttention and Performance
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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