A cross-sectional investigation of acute aerobic exercise intensity on attentional and executive control processing during the Stroop test in healthy aging
: An ERP study

  • Arthur Jones

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Science by Research


Research has argued that effortful cognitive functioning is more susceptible to age-related decline compared to tasks that can be performed with minimal cognitive effort. Aerobic exercise has also been associated with beneficial cognitive effects for tasks implicating higher order executive control processing. Therefore, the current study aims to investigate whether aerobic exercise selectively improves executive control processing which is known to be disproportionately effected by aging, potentially counteracting cognitive deterioration in healthy aging. Although behavioural studies have provided inconsistent findings, EEG/ERP studies investigating the effects of acute exercise intensity on neural activity during executive control tasks are limited in numbers and have mainly focused on younger rather than older populations. Ten healthy participants consisting of five young (mean age = 20±1 years, two male, three female) and five older adults (mean age = 67±4 years, three male, two female) performed a computerised Stroop test with continuous EEG following a 20 minute bout of acute cycling at 40% and 70% heart rate reserve, compared to a no exercise control. Behavioural reaction times showed no significant age effects for exercise condition or congruency, although moderate exercise was associated with the fastest reaction times for congruent trials. The P3b and N450 components also showed no significant higher order effects specific to trial congruency, although significant age effects were observed at the frontal region following acute exercise. The P3b and N450 amplitudes were reduced at the frontal region for the young group following moderate exercise compared to the control, suggesting processing efficiency was enhanced. However, for the older group P3b and N450 amplitudes increased at the frontal region following high intensity exercise compared to moderate, suggesting that high intensity exercise had a negative effect on cognitive processing. Acute exercise does not selectively improve executive control processing during the Stroop test, but rather seems to facilitate a non-specific global activation of neural resources at the frontal region. Acute moderate and high intensity exercise were associated with enhanced frontal processing for young adults, but impaired functioning for older adults. These findings are understood in terms of Compensatory-Related Utilization of Neural Circuits, the Posterior-Anterior Shift in Aging and Scaffolding Theory of Cognitive Aging.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University


  • Cognition
  • Aging
  • Psychological aspects
  • Exercise
  • Effect of exercise on

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