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J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2019 Apr 18. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000707. [Epub ahead of print]

Evidence against preserved syntactic comprehension in healthy aging.

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School of Psychology.
Department of Foreign Languages and Translation, University of Agder.


We investigated age-related differences in syntactic comprehension in young and older adults. Most previous research found no evidence of age-related decline in syntactic processing. We investigated elementary syntactic comprehension of minimal sentences (e.g., I cook), minimizing the influence of working memory. We also investigated the contribution of semantic processing by comparing sentences containing real verbs (e.g., I cook) versus pseudoverbs (e.g., I spuff). We measured the speed and accuracy of detecting syntactic agreement errors (e.g., I cooks, I spuffs). We found that older adults were slower and less accurate than younger adults in detecting syntactic agreement errors for both real and pseudoverb sentences, suggesting there is age-related decline in syntactic comprehension. The age-related decline in accuracy was smaller for the pseudoverb sentences, and the decline in speed was larger for the pseudoverb sentences, compared to real verb sentences. We suggest that syntactic comprehension decline is stronger in the absence of semantic information, which causes older adults to produce slower responses to make more accurate decisions. In line with these findings, performance for older adults was positively related to a measure of processing speed capacity. Taken together, we found evidence that elementary syntactic processing abilities decline in healthy aging. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).


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