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Psychol Aging. 1988 Mar;3(1):84-93.

Age-related differences in lexical access, spreading activation, and simple pronunciation.

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Department of Psychology, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri 63130.


An experiment was conducted to address age-related differences in lexical access, spreading activation, and pronunciation. Both young and older adults participated in a delayed pronunciation task to trace the time course of lexical access and a semantic priming task to trace the time course of spreading activation. In the delayed pronunciation task, subjects were presented a word and then, after varying delays, were presented a cue to pronounce the word aloud. Older adults benefited considerably more from the preexposure to the word than did the younger adults, suggesting an age-related difference in lexical access time. In the semantic priming pronunciation task, semantic relatedness (related vs. neutral), strength of the relationship (high vs. low), and prime-target stimulus onset asynchrony (200 ms, 350 ms, 500 ms, 650 ms, and 800 ms) were factorially crossed with age to investigate age-related differences in the buildup of semantic activation across time. The results from this task indicated that the activation pattern of the older adults closely mimicked that of the younger adults. Finally, the results of both tasks indicated that older adults were slower at both their onset to pronounce and their actual production durations (i.e., from onset to offset) in the pronunciation task. The results were interpreted as suggesting that input and output processes are slowed with age, but that the basic retrieval mechanism of spreading activation is spared by age.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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