Age-related differences in learning incidental, environmental information

Kelly E. Caine, Timothy A. Nichols, Arthur D. Fisk, Wendy A. Rogers, Beth Meyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Incidental task structure is consistent, potentially beneficial, information that is not necessary for successful task performance (i.e., is seemingly unrelated to the task). The authors investigated whether incidental task structure was differentially beneficial to younger and older adults. Across three experiments, 122 participants searched for targets among stimuli laid upon different patterns, such that certain patterns correlated with target location at varying degrees of consistency. An age-related difference was identified in the ability to learn an incidental structure under certain conditions and a strategy explanation for the difference was investigated. When older adults' were encouraged to orient at least some degree of attention toward the predictive information, learning occurred. Older adults are capable of learning incidental, environmental information but their learning was not identical to younger adults'. Younger adults showed performance benefits when provided with incidental task structure, but older adults may need to be made explicitly aware before it is useful.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-45
Number of pages29
JournalExperimental Aging Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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