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Psychol Aging. 2008 Sep;23(3):634-45. doi: 10.1037/a0012577.

Age differences in proactive interference, working memory, and abstract reasoning.

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Department of Psychology, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, USA.

Erratum in

  • Psychol Aging. 2008 Dec;23(4):742.


It has been hypothesized that older adults are especially susceptible to proactive interference (PI) and that this may contribute to age differences in working memory performance. In young adults, individual differences in PI affect both working memory and reasoning ability, but the relations between PI, working memory, and reasoning in older adults have not been examined. In the current study, young, old, and very old adults performed a modified operation span task that induced several cycles of PI buildup and release as well as two tests of abstract reasoning ability. Age differences in working memory scores increased as PI built up, consistent with the hypothesis that older adults are more susceptible to PI, but both young and older adults showed complete release from PI. Young adults' reasoning ability was best predicted by working memory performance under high PI conditions, replicating M. Bunting (2006). In contrast, older adults' reasoning ability was best predicted by their working memory performance under low PI conditions, thereby raising questions regarding the general role of susceptibility to PI in differences in higher cognitive function among older adults.

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