Inhibitory control is a core executive function. It involves our ability to think before we act and allows an individual to control their automatic impulses. Executive functions are a mechanism of the prefrontal cortex, which is highly stress sensitive. Research suggests that executive functions positively influence the stress response, with higher executive functions supporting a more successful stress regulation, but it is unclear if that is also the case in older age.
To investigate this, healthy young (18-30 years) and older participants (65+ years) were asked to perform two inhibitory control tasks (Stroop-Color-Word task and Go/Nogo task) and were then assigned to a stress condition (Trier Social Stress Test) and to the control condition in counterbalanced order in a two-session design. Cardiovascular parameters and self-reported stress were used as indices for the stress response.
First analyses suggest that better inhibitory control is associated with less agitation for the TSST condition in both, young and older adults. While the relationship between response inhibition and the stress response seems to be age-unrelated, preliminary results suggest an age-depended impact of interference control on the physiological stress response.
Since cognitive decline comes with age, older people may be more affected by stress, this could be counterbalanced by training executive functions.
Therefore, these results highlight the importance of inhibitory control and suggest the possibility that enhancing executive function may improve stress management.