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Age-Related Differences in Reaction Time of Healthy Older Amateur Golfers
(August 2002)
Virginia Politano, Ph.D.
Thornton Draper, Ph.D.
Mickie R. McCormick, Ph.D.
Virginia Politano
 Department of Physical Education and Recreation
 P.O. Box 19542
 North Carolina Central University
 Durham, NC 27707
 (919) 560-6186 or (919) 530-5383
Age-related differences in reaction time of healthy older amateur golfers between the ages of 50 and 85 were investigated.  The participants were twenty-four (24) amateur golfers who play golf at least 2 to 3 times a week.  The participants were assessed on two types of reaction time – simple reaction time (SRT) and choice reaction time (CRT) tests.  There were two tests for the CRT – one-choice and two-choice reaction time tasks.  A statistically significant difference was found between age and the two-choice CRT, F (2,21) = 6.0, p <.008.  The younger participants (50-70 years of age) performed better on the two choice CRT than the older participants (71-85).  The observation that this effect was seen with increasing task complexity is consistent with research previously conducted.

Older adults exhibit limitations in the processing of information.  These limitations occur in the central processing center, which can cause a slowing of the speed of processing information.  However, older adults do not exhibit a slowing process in all types of tasks.  There is little change in the performance of a simple reaction time task (Welford, 1977b).  Simple reaction time (SRT) is defined as the time between the onset of a stimulus and the beginning of a movement.  When actions require a series of movements (choice reaction time), older adults show a greater decrease in performance (speed) (Haywood & Getchell, 2001).

Choice reaction time (CRT) is defined as the response to one or more stimuli.  Choice reaction time is slower in older adults than simple reaction time because choice reaction time tasks are made more complicated by increasing the number of responses that a person must make.  The increase in responses will disproportionally increase the reaction time (Rikli & Edwards, 1991; Lupinacci, Rikli, Jones, & Ross, 1993).  When speed is not an issue, older adults demonstrate accurate performance (Haywood & Getchell, 2001).  A major reason for the decrease in information processing speed seems to involve decisions based on perceptual information and programming movements (Welford, 1980).  Maintaining information processing speed by older adults is necessary for daily life activities such as driving an automobile or restoring balance after a near fall (Lupinaci, Rikli, Jones, & Ross, 1993).

Research, concerning information processing speed and an active lifestyle, has shown that older adults who maintain physically active lifestyles demonstrated less slowing on reaction time tasks (Clarkson-Smith & Hartley, 1989; Baylor & Spirduso, 1988; Rikli & Edwards, 1991:Panton, Graves, Pollock, Hagberg, & Chen, 1990).  It was also found that older adults with active lifestyles exhibited reaction time superior to that of older inactive adults (Baylor & Spirduso, 1988; Rikli & Edwards, 1991; Lupinacci, Rikli, Jones, & Ross, 1993).

The purpose of the present study was to assess age-related differences in the reaction time of healthy older amateur golfers between the ages of 50 and 85.  The golfers played golf two to three times per week and were considered to be physically active.  To determine age group differences in reaction, the time necessary to respond to each of three different finger movements were analyzed by both a simple reaction time (SRT) and a choice reaction time (CRT) task.

Participants were 24 amateur golfers ages 50-85 (M = 63.5 years of age).  Six of the participants were male (M = 64 years of age) and 18 were female (M = 63 years of age).  The participants were determined to be healthy and had no physical conditions that might hinder performance on the reaction time tasks.  The participants, who were in a golf league of older adults, signed a consent form willing to volunteer for the study.  For the present study, the participants were placed into three age groups, 50-60 (N = 8), 61-70 (N = 11), and 71-80 (N = 5).

All participants were assessed on two different tasks involving information-processing speed – SRT and CRT.  The SRT and CRT were administered to each participant, one at a time, in a quiet area without disruptions and distractions.  The reaction time tasks took approximately 10 minutes per participant.  Measurement for both simple and choice reaction time were taken using the Lafayette Choice Reaction Time Apparatus.

Simple Reaction Time.  SRT was measured by having the participants depress the middle key of the choice reaction time apparatus with the middle finger of their preferred hand in response to a visual stimuli (light).  The middle light on the display panel was used in measuring SRT.  Following a variable foreperiod, a stimulus light was activated.  Each participant received three practice trials, followed by 10 test trials.  The score was the mean of the 10 trials.  All participants were given verbal knowledge of results following each trial.

Choice Reaction Time.  CRT requires the participant to correctly differentiate and respond to two or more stimuli instead of one.  The same procedures used for SRT were followed for CRT except that an auditory stimulus (buzzer) and a visual stimulus (light) were presented for the “one-choice” reaction time trial.  The participants were told to use the middle finger of the right hand if the auditory stimulus were presented and the middle finger of the left hand if a visual stimulus were presented.  The middle key on the reaction time apparatus was to be used for both type of stimuli.  The participants were given four (4) trials for the “one-choice” reaction time task.  Another set of four (4) trials was given for a “two-choice” reaction time.  The participants were not told which key to depress.  The participants, with both hands on the table, were instructed to depress the appropriate key using the middle finger of the right hand for a red light and the middle finger of the left hand for a blue light stimulus.  The participants were to depress all keys until the light was turned off.

Analysis of Data
A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to analyze age in relation to the three dependent variables – zero choice, one-choice, and two-choice.  The significance level was set at .05.  Due to the small number of participants all of the variables were collapsed across gender.
Means and standard deviations for all variables are presented in Table 1.  CRT became progressively slower with age.  However, as seen in Table 1, the mean score for SRT for the 71 – 85 age group was faster than the other two groups.  ANOVA results revealed no significant difference for SRT (zero choice) F (2,21) = 1.23, p < .31 based on age and no significant age related difference was found for CRT (one-choice) F (2,21) = .87, p < .43.  Statistically significant results were found for CRT (two-choice) F (2,21) = 6.0, p < .008.  The CRT was significantly faster for the participants in the 50 – 60 year old group (M = 1.0), and the 61 – 71 year old group (M = .98) than for the 71 – 85 year old age group (M = 1.99).
Table 1
Means and Standard Deviantions for SRT and CRT
50-60 years of age

Zero Choice (SRT)
One Choice (CRT)
Two Choice (CRT)
61-70 years of age

Zero Choice (SRT)
One Choice (CRT)
Two Choice (CRT)
71-85 years of age

Zero Choice (SRT)
One Choice (CRT)
Two Choice (CRT)

In general, the present findings indicate that the speed of processing movements is slower in older adults (M = 75 years of age)  than younger adults (M = 61 years of age).  These findings are consistent with the results of Lupinacci, Rikli, Jones, & Ross (1993) which indicated that the age effect on reaction time is more pronounced with increasing task complexity and is consistent with research on information processing (Welford, 1980).  The results of the present study suggest a slowing in reaction time with age.  The findings, also, support the contention that older adults are more concerned with accuracy than with speed as evidenced by the faster SRT.  Older adults do well with simple tasks but there seems to be a decline in the speed of information processing as the person ages.  Interference effects in older adults seem to be a result of slowed processing.

The findings of the present study support the Stroop effect (Stroop, 1935).  Basically, the Stroop effect refers to the slowing of reaction time when the ink color, in which the word is printed is incompatible with the name of the color.  Interference of information processing occurs when individuals must decide which response (key) to select – the one corresponding to the name of the word (GREEN)  or the one representing the ink color of the word (GREEN INK) (Schmidt & Wisberg, 2000).  Spieler, Balota, and Faust (1996) used the Stroop effect to understand changes in cognitive processes of healthy older adults and individuals with dementia of the Alzheimer’s type.  The results indicated that older adults have increased difficulty processing information when there is interference from irrelevant dimensions of stimuli.  The present study is in agreement with Spieler, et. al. (1996) which indicated that an increased number of tasks interfered with the ability to process information with speed.

Although the sample size was small (N = 24), the results of the present study confirm the findings of other research (Lupinacci, Rikli, Jones, & Ross, 1993; Spieler, Balota, & Faust, 1996; Baylor & Spirduso, 1988; Rikli & Edwards, 1991) who found that age influences speed of response to a choice reaction time task.  All of the participants in the present study have an active lifestyle.  Whether this contributed to the results of the study is unknown, as the researchers did not look at activity level.  Physical activity appears to be effective in slowing certain age-related declines in cognitive and motor performance particularly as measured by assessing reaction time.  Older adults who are active maintain a fairly high level of performance on reaction time tasks.

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