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Keywords:

  • conflict adaptation;
  • conflict frequency;
  • obstructive sleep apnea;
  • post-error slowing

Summary

Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome is associated with executive cognitive impairment. An important question is whether impairment in executive functioning in obstructive sleep apnea syndrome is independent of dysfunction in attention. Attentional control is a subcomponent of executive functioning that is mediated by frontal lobe processing. In the current study, we investigated whether attentional control is deficient in obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Attentional control processes were investigated through conflict adaptation and conflict frequency paradigms. These neuropsychological paradigms were assessed by using the Simon, Flanker and Stroop tasks. We additionally analysed post-error slowing data within these tasks. Error processing is another index of cognitive control that is mediated by frontal lobe functioning. Our sample consisted of 14 healthy adults and 24 patients with untreated moderate–severe obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Results indicated that attentional control is partially dysfunctional among patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Attentional control processes were deficient when focal attention (Flanker task) processes were involved, but were intact when observed using the Simon and Stroop tasks. A non-significant trend in post-error slowing data suggested that error processing, assessed with the Flanker task, was diminished among patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. These results support the view that obstructive sleep apnea syndrome leads to some amount of frontal lobe dysfunction, and that attentional control and error processing might be particularly affected by obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.