Memory & Cognition

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 59–71 | Cite as

Aging of attention: Does the ability to divide decline?

  • Timothy A. Salthouse
  • Nathanael M. Fristoe
  • Tara T. Lineweaver
  • Vicky E. Coon


Previous research has yielded conflicting results regarding the relationship between adult age and the ability to divide attention between two concurrent tasks. At least some of the inconsistency is probably attributable to methodological variations, such as the manner in which divided-attention ability has been assessed, how single-task performance has been considered, and the degree of control over relative emphasis placed on each task. Two experiments employing procedures sensitive to these concerns were conducted in which a speeded decision task was performed during the retention interval of a letter-memory task. The results of both experiments indicated that there were relatively few age-related influences on dual-task performance vis-à-vis those on single-task performance.


Concurrent Task Arithmetic Task Speed Index Letter Comparison Concurrent Memory Load 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Baddeley, A. (1986).Working memory. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Baddeley, A. (1992). Working memory.Science,255, 556–559.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Baddeley, A., Logie, R., Bressi, S., Della Sala, S., &Spinnler, H. (1986). Dementia and working memory.Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,38A, 603–618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baron, A., Myerson, J., &Hale, S. (1988). An integrated analysis of the structure and function of behavior: Aging and the cost of dividing attention. In G. Davey & C. Cullen (Eds.),Human operant conditioning and behavior modification (pp. 139–166). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  5. Brouwer, W., Ickenroth, J., Ponds, R., &van Wolffelaar, P. (1990). Divided attention in old age: Difficulty in integrating skills. In P. J. D. Drenth, J. A. Sergeant, & R. J. Takens (Eds.),European perspectives in psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 335–347). Chichester, England: Wiley.Google Scholar
  6. Brouwer, W. H., Waterink, W., van Wolffelaar, P. C., &Rothengatter, T. (1991). Divided attention in experienced young and older drivers: Lane tracking and visual analysis in a dynamic driving simulator.Human Factors,33, 573–582.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Crook, T. H., West, R. L., &Larrabee, G. J. (1993). The driving—reaction time test: Assessing age declines in dual-task performance.Developmental Neuropsychology,9, 31–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Korteling, J. E. (1993). Effects of age and task similarity on dual-task performance.Human Factors,33, 99–113.Google Scholar
  9. Morris, R. G., Craik, F. I. M., &Gick, M. L. (1990). Age differences in working memory tasks: The role of second memory and the central executive system.Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,42A, 67–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Morris, R. G., Gick, M. L., &Craik, F. I. M. (1988). Processing resources and age differences in working memory.Memory & Cognition,16, 362–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Park, D. C., Smith, A. D., Dudley, W. N., &Lafronza, V. N. (1989). Effects of age and a divided attention task presented during encoding and retrieval on memory.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,15, 1185–1191.Google Scholar
  12. Ponds, R. W. H. M., Brouwer, W. H., &vanWolffelaar, P. C. (1988). Age differences in divided attention in a simulated driving task.Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences,43, P151-P156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Salthouse, T. A. (1991). Mediation of adult age differences in cognition by reductions in working memory and speed of processing.Psychological Science,2, 179–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Salthouse, T. A. (1992a).Mechanisms of age-cognition relations in adulthood. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  15. Salthouse, T. A. (1992b). What do adult age differences in the digit-symbol Substitution Test reflect?Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences,47, P121-P128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Salthouse, T. A. (1993a). Speed and knowledge as determinants of adult age differences in verbal tasks.Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences,48, P29-P36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Salthouse, T. A. (1993b). Speed mediation of adult age differences in cognition.Developmental Psychology,29, 722–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Salthouse, T. A., &Kersten, A. W. (1993). Decomposing adult age differences in symbol arithmetic.Memory & Cognition,21, 699–710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Salthouse, T. A., Rogan, J. D., &Prill, K. A. (1984). Division of attention: Age differences on a visually presented memory task.Memory & Cognition,12, 613–620.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Somberg, B. L., &Salthouse, T. A. (1982). Divided attention abilities in young and old adults.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance,8, 651–663.Google Scholar
  21. Tun, P. A., Wingfield, A., Stine, E. A. L., &Mecsas, C. (1992). Rapid speech processing and divided attention: Processing rate versus processing resources as an explanation of age effects.Psychology & Aging,7, 546–550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Wickens, C. D. (1984). Processing resources in attention. In R. Parasuraman & D. R. Davies (Eds.),Varieties of attention (pp. 63–102). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy A. Salthouse
    • 1
  • Nathanael M. Fristoe
    • 1
  • Tara T. Lineweaver
    • 1
  • Vicky E. Coon
    • 1
  1. 1.School of PsychologyGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlanta

Personalised recommendations