The effortfulness hypothesis implies that difficulty in decoding the surface form, as in the case of age-related sensory limitations or background noise, consumes the attentional resources that are then unavailable for semantic integration in language comprehension. Because ageing is associated with sensory declines, degrading of the surface form by a noisy background can pose an extra challenge for older adults. In two experiments, this hypothesis was tested in a self-paced moving window paradigm in which younger and older readers' online allocation of attentional resources to surface decoding and semantic integration was measured as they read sentences embedded in varying levels of visual noise. When visual noise was moderate (Experiment 1), resource allocation among young adults was unaffected but older adults allocated more resources to decode the surface form at the cost of resources that would otherwise be available for semantic processing; when visual noise was relatively intense (Experiment 2), both younger and older participants allocated more attention to the surface form and less attention to semantic processing. The decrease in attentional allocation to semantic integration resulted in reduced recall of core ideas in both experiments, suggesting that a less organized semantic representation was constructed in noise. The greater vulnerability of older adults at relatively low levels of noise is consistent with the effortfulness hypothesis.
- Conceptual integration
- Visual noise
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physiology (medical)
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology