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Exp Aging Res. 2016;42(1):112-7. doi: 10.1080/0361073X.2015.1108691.

Social Coordination in Older Adulthood: A Dual-Process Model.

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a Penn Frontotemporal Degeneration Center, Department of Neurology , University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Neuroscience Graduate Group, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine , Philadelphia , Pennsylvania.



In a variety of collaborative circumstances, participants must adopt the perspective of a partner and establish a shared mental representation that helps mediate common understanding. This process is referred to as social coordination. Here, the authors investigate the effect of aging on social coordination and consider separately the component processes related to perspective-taking and working memory.


Twelve young adults and 14 older adults completed an experimental, language-based coordination task. Subjects were asked to describe a scene with sufficient detail so that a conversational partner could identify a target object in the context of other, competing objects that shared a variable number of features. Trials varied in the information available to the partner (perspective-taking demand) and in the number of competing objects present in the scene (working memory demand). Responses were scored according to adjective use.


Results indicated that social coordination performance decreases with age. Whereas young adults performed close to ceiling, older adults were only precise in 49.70% of trials. In analyses examining perspective-taking conditions with no competitors, older adults were consistently impaired relative to young adults; in analyses examining the number of competitors during the simplest perspective-taking condition, both older and younger adults became more impaired with increasing numbers of competitors.


The experimental data suggest that social coordination decreases with age, which may affect communicative efficacy. Older adults' tendency to provide insufficient responses suggests a limitation in perspective-taking, and the pattern of decline in common ground performance with increasing competitors suggests that this is independent of working memory decline. In sum, our results suggest that social coordination deficits in aging may be multifactorial.

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