What determines cognitive estimation ability? Changing contributions of semantic and executive domains as a function of age

Paul Hoffman*, Sarah E MacPherson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The Cognitive Estimation Test (CET) is commonly used in neuropsychological assessment. It is typically assumed to load on executive functions, although research has shown that CET performance also depends on access to semantic knowledge. It is unknown whether these contributions vary with age. It is important to examine this question as these abilities have divergent life course trajectories: executive functions tend to decline as people age but semantic knowledge continues to accrue. In addition, previous research has not examined potential contributions to CET performance from semantic control abilities, that is cognitive control processes involved specifically in the retrieval and use of semantic information. To address these questions, we investigated cognitive predictors of CET performance in healthy young and older adults. We found that better executive function was associated with more accurate estimation in both age groups. However, the effect of semantic knowledge on CET performance was significantly larger in older people, having no predictive power in the younger group. The ability to detect weak semantic associations, which is thought to index controlled search and retrieval of semantic information, also had divergent effects on CET performance in the two age groups. Our results provide empirical support for the idea that older people are more reliant on semantic knowledge when estimating quantities, which may explain why age-related decline in CET scores is not typically found. We conclude that deficits on the CET may be indicative either of semantic or executive impairments, particularly in older age groups.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neuropsychology
Early online date21 May 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 May 2022

Keywords

  • cognitive ageing
  • cognitive estimation
  • executive function
  • semantic cognition

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