According to the dual-mechanisms of cognitive control framework (DMC), older adults rely predominantly on reactive as opposed to proactive control. As a result, we expected elevated response conflict for older relative to younger adults with increasing task difficulty. Response-locked ERP activity was examined separately for fast and slow responses (representing proactive and reactive control, respectively) at low, medium, and high levels of difficulty. Older adults recruited reactive control more often than the young, as reflected by increased behavioral costs and enhanced pre-response negativity (PRN). No age differences in conflict detection (medial frontal negativity, MFN) were evident at low levels of difficulty, but response conflict increased along with difficulty for older adults. These data provide empirical support for the DMC suggesting that aging is associated with a less efficient reactive-control mode of processing.