Understanding a narrative situation depends on keeping track of multiple characters that enter and exit dynamically as the plot unfolds. We investigated age differences in this process during narrative comprehension. In Experiment 1, we used a probe recognition paradigm to examine the effect of age on the accessibility of a previous character when another character was subsequently introduced. In Experiment 2, reading time was measured to examine age differences in the encoding of a new character after another had already been introduced. Our findings show that older readers have particular difficulty both in accessing the initial character after a new character is introduced and in thoroughly encoding a new character while other characters inhabit the discourse world. We attribute these differences to age differences in working memory that make it difficult to access a backgrounded character when a new character is in focus and to distinctively encode a new character when maintenance of another character is already consuming attentional resources.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)