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Psychol Aging. 2010 Dec;25(4):898-910. doi: 10.1037/a0019430.

The status of rapid response learning in aging.

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Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC, USA.


Strong evidence exists for an age-related impairment in associative processing under intentional encoding and retrieval conditions, but the status of incidental associative processing has been less clear. In 2 experiments, we examined the effects of age on rapid response learning-the incidentally learned stimulus-response association that results in a reduction in priming when a learned response becomes inappropriate for a new task. Specifically, we tested whether priming was equivalently sensitive in both age groups to reversal of the task-specific decision cue. Experiment 1 showed that cue inversion reduced priming in both age groups with a speeded inside/outside classification task, and in Experiment 2, cue inversion eliminated priming on an associative version of this task. Thus, the ability to encode an association between a stimulus and its initial task-specific response appears to be preserved in aging. These findings provide an important example of a form of associative processing that is unimpaired in older adults.

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