The Assessment of Qualitative Age Differences in Discourse Processing

Elizabeth A.L. Stine, Arthur Wingfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is generally the case that older adults remember less from what they read and listen to than do their younger counterparts. The question remains open, however, as to whether these quantitative age differences are also accompanied by qualitative differences. We address this problem in two parts. First, the issue of whether younger and older adults remember different kinds of information is considered by reviewing data on age differences in the levels effect (the tendency for gist information to show a higher probability of recall than detail) as well as by examining results from relative memorability analyses (in which the probabilities of recall of individual text units by young and old are directly compared). Second, the issue of whether younger and older adults depend on different sorts of contextual or linguistic cues, or rely on different processing strategies in understanding and remembering discourse is considered by examining evidence for four different hypotheses of qualitative age differences in discourse processing. It is argued that while the qualitative structure of language processing mechanisms is preserved across age, working memory limitations that accompany advanced age may in themselves result in a qualitatively different balance of these processes, or they may necessitate that certain processes take precedence in later adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-92
Number of pages60
JournalAdvances in Psychology
Issue numberC
StatePublished - Jan 1 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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