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J Gerontol. 1979 Mar;34(2):209-19.

Aging in the rhesus monkey: effects on visual discrimination learning and reversal learning.


The behavior of aged rhesus monkeys (18 years and older) was compared to that of young monkeys (3 to 6 years old) to evaluate their relative abilities to learn a series of visual discrimination and discrimination reversal problems. Using a subject-paced, automated experimental procedure designed to optimize stimulus control and facilitate execution of choice responses, no consistent age-related differences were observed in the ability to learn new color and pattern discrimination problems of varying difficulty. However, a severe and consistent deficity on reversal learning did occur. A detailed analysis of this deficit revealed that not only did the aged monkeys take longer to extinguish the old habit and return to chance performance, but they continued to display a deficit in establishing accurate performance at above-chance levels as well. Since no reliable age differences were observed on the original discrimination learning problems, these data suggest that aging impairs mechanisms involved with response rigidity and/or susceptibility to intertrial proactive interference, more severely than those involved with the simple formation of new associations.

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