Testing Age Invariance in Language Processes



We believe the methodological proposals in this chapter can help focus theoretical controversies about the role of age in the processing of language. Of course (unfortunately), the experimental paradigms we propose do not substitute for good theory. Especially in the case of syntactic complexity, we apparently are only at the beginning of understanding the interplay of language-related and general cognitive mechanisms such as working memory or processing rate. Models tracing age differences to some form of general resource deficiency were based on data from experimental paradigms that frequently confounded task difficulty with task complexity. We are optimistic that experimental control of unspecific task difficulty is like removing a veil under which effects linked to theoretical notions of processing complexity will appear in a clear view.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Anderson, J. R. (1974). Retrieval of propositional information from long-term memory. Cognitive Psychology, 6, 451–474.Google Scholar
  2. Bäckman, L., & Nilsson, L.-G. (1996). Semantic memory functioning across the adult life span. European Psychologist, 1, 27–33.Google Scholar
  3. Balota, D. A., & Duchek, J. M. (1988). Age-related differences in lexical access, spreading activation, and simple pronunciation. Psychology and Aging, 3, 84–93.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Baltes, P. B., & Goulet, L. R. (1971). Exploration of developmental variables by manipulation and simulation of age differences in behavior. Human Development, 14, 149–170.Google Scholar
  5. Baltes, P. B., Reese, H. W., & Nesselroade, J. R. (1977). Life-span developmental psychology: Introduction to research methods. Monterey, CA: Brooks Cole.Google Scholar
  6. Brinley, J. F. (1965). Cognitive sets, speed and accuracy of performance in the elderly. In A. T. Welford & J. E. Birren (Eds.), Behavior, aging, and the nervous system (pp. 114–149). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.Google Scholar
  7. Caplan, D., & Waters, G. S. (1998). Verbal working memory and sentence comprehension. Behavioral and Brain Sciences.Google Scholar
  8. Carrithers, J. (1989). Syntactic complexity does not necessarily make sentences harder to understand. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 18, 75–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cerrella, J. (1985). Information processing rates in the elderly. Psychological Bulletin, 98, 67–83.Google Scholar
  10. Cerella, J. (1990) Aging and information processing rate. In J. E. Birren & K. W. Schaie (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of aging (pp. 201–221). San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  11. Charness, N., & Campbell, J. D. (1988). Acquiring skill at mental arithmetic in adulthood. Journal of Experimental Psychology, General, 117, 115–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Feier, C. D., & Gerstman, L. (1980). Sentence comprehension abilities throughout the adult life span. Journal of Gerontology, 35, 722–728.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Fitzgerald, J. M. (1983). A developmental study of recall from natural categories. Developmental Psychology, 19, 9–14. Ford (1983)Google Scholar
  14. Frazier, L. (1987). Syntactic processing: Evidence from Dutch. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 5, 519–559.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Geary, D. C., Frensch, P. A., & Wiley, J. G. (1993). Simple and complex subtraction: Strategy choice, and speed-of-processing differences in young and elderly adults. Psychology and Aging, 8, 242–256.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Junker, M., Oberauer, K., & Kliegl, R. (1999). Age simulation of syntactic complexity effects with a working memory load. Manuscript in preparation.Google Scholar
  17. Kemper, S. (1986). Imitation of complex syntactic constructions by elderly adults. Applied Psycholinguistics, 7, 277–288.Google Scholar
  18. Kemper, S. (1992). Language and aging. In F. I. M. Craik & T. A. Salthouse (Eds.), Handbook of aging and cognition (pp. 213–270). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  19. Kliegl, R., Fanselow, G., Schlesewsky, M., & Oberauer, K. (1999). Age Simulation of Syntactic Complexity Effects with Manipulations of Presentation Rate. Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
  20. Kliegl, R., & Mayr, U. (1992). Commentary. Human Development, 35, 343–349.Google Scholar
  21. Kliegl, R., Mayr, U., & Krampe, R. T. (1994). Time-accuracy functions for determining process and person differences: an application to cognitive aging. Cognitive Psychology, 26, 134–164.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Krems, J. (1984). de Erwartungsgeleitete Sprachverarbeitung [Language processing guided by expectations.] Frankfurt: Lang.Google Scholar
  23. Laver, G. D., & Burke, D. M. (1993). Why do semantic priming effects increase in old age? A meta-analysis. Psychology and Aging, 8, 34–43.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Lima, S. & Hale, S., & Myerson, J. (1991). How general is general slowing? Evidence from the lexical domain. Psychology and Aging, 6, 416–425.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Lindenberger, U., & Potter, U. (1998). The complex nature of unique and shared effects in hierarchical linear regression: Implications for developmental psychology. Psychological Methods, 3, 218–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. MacWhinney, B. (1987). The Competition Model. In B. MacWhinney (Ed.), Mechanisms of language acquisition. Hillsdale: NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  27. MacWhinney, B. (1999) The emergence of language from embodiment. In B. MacWhinney (Ed.), The emergence of language. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  28. MacWhinney, B., & Pleh, C. (1988). The processing of restrictive relative clauses in Hungarian. Cognition, 29, 95–141.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Mayr, U., & Kliegl, R. (1993). Sequential and coordinative complexity: Age-based processing limitations in figural transformations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 19, 1297–1320.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Mayr, U., & Kliegl, R. (1998). Complex semantic processing in old age: Does it stay or does it go? Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
  31. Mayr, U., & Kliegl, R. (1993). Sequential and coordinative complexity: Age-based processing limitations in figural transformations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 19, 1297–1320.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Mayr, U., Kliegl, R., & Krampe, R. T. (1996). Sequential and coordinative processing dynamics in figural transformations across the life span. Cognition, 59, 61–90.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Moscovitch, M. (1994). Cognitive resources and dual-task interference effects at retrieval in normal people: The role of the frontal lobes and medial temporal cortex. Neuropsychology, 8, 524–534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Norman, S., Kemper, S., Kynette, D., Cheung, H., & Anagnopoulus, C. (1991). Syntactic complexity and adults’ running memory span. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 46, 346–351.Google Scholar
  35. Pechmann, T., Uszkoreit, H., Engelkamp, J., & Zerbst, D. (1994). Word order in the German middle field (Report 43): Computational Linguistics at the University of the Saarland.Google Scholar
  36. Rochon, E., Waters, G. S., & Caplan, D. (1994). Sentence comprehension in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. Brain & Language, 46, 329–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rösler, F., Pechmann, T., Streb, J., Röder, B. & Henninghausen, E. (1998). Parsing of sentences in a language with varying word order: Word-by-word variations of processing demands are revealed by event-related brain potentials. Journal of Memory and Language, 38, 150–176.Google Scholar
  38. Salthouse, T. A. (1985). A theory of cognitive aging. Amsterdam: North Holland Publ.Google Scholar
  39. Salthouse, T. A., & Coon, V. E. (1994). Interpretation of differential deficits: The case of aging and mental arithmetic. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 20, 1172–1182.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Schlesewsky, Fanselow, Kliegl, & Krems (in press). Preferences for grammatical functions in the processing of locally ambiguous wh-questions in German. B. Hemforth & L. Konieczny (Eds.), Cognitive parsing of German. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  41. Sliwinski, M. J., & Hall, C. B. (1998). Constraints on general slowing: A meta-analysis using hierarchical linear models. Psychology and Aging, 13, 164–175.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Troyer, A., Moscovitch, M., & Winocur, G. (1997). Clustering and switching as two components of verbal fluency: Evidence from younger and older healthy adults. Neuropsychology, 11, 38–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Verhaeghen, P. (in press). The parallels in beauty’s brow: Time-accuracy functions and their implications for cognitive aging theories. In T. Perfect & E. Maylor (Eds.), Theoretical debate in cognitive aging. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Verhaeghen, P., Kliegl, R., & Mayr, U. (1997). Sequential and coordinative complexity in time-accuracy functions for mental arithmetic. Psychology and Aging, 12, 555–564.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Verhaeghen, P., & Marcoen, A. (1993). Memory aging as a general phenomenon: Episodic recall of old adults is a function of episodic recall of young adults. Psychology and Aging, 8, 380–388.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Waters, G. S., Caplan, D., & Rochon, E. (1995). Processing resources and sentence comprehension in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 12, 1–30.Google Scholar
  47. West, R. L. (1996). An application of prefrontal cortex functioning theory to cognitive aging. Psychological Bulletin, 120, 272–292.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations