Send to

Choose Destination
Behav Brain Res. 2014 Aug 15;270:47-55. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2014.04.036. Epub 2014 May 6.

Ageing and spatial reversal learning in humans: findings from a virtual water maze.

Author information

Institute of Psychology, Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, 06099 Halle (Saale), Germany. Electronic address:
International Laboratory of Neurophysiology of Virtual Reality, St.-Petersburg National Research University of Information Technology, Mechanics and Optics (ITMO), 197101 St.-Petersburg, Russia. Electronic address:
Institute of Psychology, Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, 06099 Halle (Saale), Germany. Electronic address:


Deterioration in spatial memory with normal ageing is well accepted. Animal research has shown spatial reversal learning to be most vulnerable to pathological changes in the brain, but this has never been tested in humans. We studied ninety participants (52% females, 20-80 yrs) in a virtual water maze with a reversal learning procedure. Neuropsychological functioning, mood and personality were assessed to control moderator effects. For data analysis, participants were subdivided post hoc into groups aged 20-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-64 and 65-80 yrs. Initial spatial learning occurred in all age groups but 65-80-yrs-olds never reached the level of younger participants. When tested for delayed recall of spatial memory, younger people frequented the target area but those over 65 yrs did not. In spatial reversal learning, age groups over 45 yrs were deficient and the 65-80-yrs-olds showed no evidence of reversal. Spatial measures were associated with neuropsychological functioning. Extraversion and measures of depression moderated the age effect on the learning index with older introverted and non-depressed individuals showing better results. Measures of anxiety moderated the age effect on reversal learning with older people having higher anxiety scores showing a preserved reversal learning capability. Results confirmed age to be a major factor in spatial tasks but further showed neuropsychological functioning, psycho-affective determinants and personality traits to be significant predictors of individual differences.


Ageing; Anxiety; Personality; Spatial reversal learning

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center