L., & Zacks, R. T. (1988). Working memory, comprehension, and aging:
A review and a new view. In G. H. Bower (Ed.), The Psychology of Learning
and Motivation, Vol. 22 (pp. 193-225). New York: Academic Press.
A reasonable case
can be made for the view that linguistic competence remains invariant
across the adult life span (Light, 1988). Contrast this conclusion with
one derived from the literature on aging and memory: Here age deficits
of varying sizes are common (see Craik, 1983; Kausler, 1982). This is
important to our general concern with discourse comprehension because
there is every reason to believe that linguistic performance is constrained
by memory and functioning (Clark & Clark, 1977; Just & Carpenter,
1987). Consider, for example, the performance of younger and older adults
on two different task tapping knowledge of word meanings (Bowles &
Poon, 1985). Younger and older adults did not differ on a task which required
them to determine if each of a series of letter strings was a word. However,
older adults showed poorer performance (as measured by accuracy and speed)
on a task which required them to produce target words when cued with their
definitions. The important difference between the two tasks appears to
be greater retrieval demands made by the definition task. These results
fit well with the contention that memory factors are determinants of the
degree of age differences in linguistic performance.
Indeed, even the overarching objective of linguistic competence, comprehension,
is constrained by performance circumstances that may well be memory based:
understanding and remembering are substantially impaired for older adults
are compared to younger adults when a message is presented rapidly rather
than slowly (e.g., Stine, Wingfield, & Poon, 1986) or when it contains
syntactic structures that put heavy as compared to light demands on working
memory (e.g., left-branching clauses vs. right-branching clauses; Kemper,
We begin this article with an overview of the theoretical and empirical
literature that address aging and discourse comprehension. We then present
a series of five studies which were guided by a particular working memory
viewpoint regarding the formation of inferences during discourse processing.
The data, although in broad agreement with our initial framework, suggested
than an altered viewpoint might be more useful in guiding further research.
In the next section we turn to a critique of working memory models and
of the broader category of limited capacity models that they exemplify.
Our data, together with these criticisms, lead up to propose, in the final
section, a new framework for conceptualizing working memory, one that
draws on ideas from current parallel-architecture attention theories,
from social cognition, from classic interference theory of forgetting,
from work on reading and discourse comprehension, and from cognitive gerontology.
It is a framework developed from our interest in normal aging and from
our assessment that breakdowns in cognition, as occur with aging (and
possibly with depression, chronic high arousal, and chronic illness),
may prove to be as valuable a window into normal cognitive functioning
as breakdowns in amnesia and aphasia are currently proving to be (e.g.,
Back to Publications
| Lab Home | Research
Interests | General Lab Information
People in the Lab | Publications
| Photos | Related Sites
This website was designed by Riah
Flewelling & Mark Leung.
Copyright © 2001 Hasher Aging & Cognition Lab.
All rights reserved.