Multitasking in non-computerised and computerised versions of the Breakfast Task in healthy adult aging
Kozlowska, Maria Teresa
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Older adults demonstrate poor performance on standard executive tests. However, age-related deficits have been found only on a number of more realistic executive tests. The present study investigated age effects in multitasking, requiring a range of executive, as well as non-executive, cognitive functions. Previous study by Craik and Bialystok (2006) showed impaired performance of older adults on a computerised multitasking test, which simulated cooking breakfast. Participants were instructed to prepare the food so that the different components were ready at the same time, despite requiring differing cooking times. A filler activity, table setting, was also introduced. Craik and Bialystok, however, could not eliminate potential effects of age-related differences in computer literacy on the results. Therefore the present study aimed to compare the computerised method of examining age differences in multitasking with a non-computerised task version, creating analogous cognitive demands. The non-computerised study used kitchen timers and cardboard imitations of food. Two age groups (18-40 and 60-80 years old) were tested on both computerised and non-computerised tasks. The results of the computerised task showed age-related decrements in performance, consistent with Craik and Bialystok’s findings. However, in the non-computerised task, there was no substantial age difference found on most of the measures, except for one: the filler task performance. This finding suggests that, there may be no substantial decrease in multitasking performance in older adults when measured by moderately unstructured tests such as the breakfast task (non-computerised). The results of spared multitasking ability shown are interpreted in line with the hypothesis that older adults compensate for their deficits on planning ability and memory by incorporating into the test previous experience and strategies for multitasking. It can be concluded that older adults’ poor performance in the computerised task may be attributed to their lower computer literacy, rather than deficits in their multitasking ability.