Response time inconsistency (RTI)—or trial-to-trial variability in speeded performance—is increasingly recognized as an indicator of transient lapses of attention, cognitive health status, and central nervous system integrity, as well as a potential early indicator of normal and pathological cognitive aging (Hultsch, Strauss, Hunter, & MacDonald, 2008; MacDonald, Li, & Bäckman, 2009). Comparatively, little research has examined personality predictors of RTI across adulthood.
We evaluated the association between the personality trait neuroticism and RTI in a community-dwelling sample of 317 adults between the ages of 19 to 83 and tested for two indirect pathways through negative affect (NA) and cognitive interference (CI).
The personality trait neuroticism predicted greater RTI independent of mean response time performance and demographic covariates; the results were age-invariant. Furthermore, NA (but not CI) accounted for this association and moderated mediation model results indicated that older adults were more vulnerable to the adverse effects of NA.
Neuroticism predicts greater response time inconsistency irrespective of mean performance and this effect is driven largely by heightened negative emotionality that may be particularly detrimental for older adults.