The influence of list format and category headers on age differences in understanding medication instructions

Daniel G. Morrow, Von O. Leirer, Jill M. Andrassy, Catherine M. Hier, William E. Menard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examined whether instructions are better understood and remembered when they contain organizational cues. Our previous research found that older and younger adults organize medication information in similar ways, suggesting that they have a schema for taking medication. In the present study, list formats (vs. paragraphs) emphasized the order of information and category headers emphasized the grouping of information specified by this schema. Experiment 1 examined whether list and header cues improve comprehension (answer time and accuracy) and recall for adults varying in age and working memory capacity (measured by a sentence span task). List instructions were better understood and recalled than paragraphs, and reduced age differences in answer time and span differences in accuracy. Headers reduced paragraph comprehension for participants with lower levels of working memory capacity, presumably because they were not salient cues in the paragraphs. Experiment 2 investigated if headers were more effective when more saliently placed in paragraphs and lists, and if list and header cues helped readers draw inferences from the instructions. List formats again reduced age differences in comprehension, especially reducing the time needed to draw inferences about the medication. While headers did not impair comprehension, these cues did impair recall. The present study suggests that list-organized instructions provide an environmental support that improves both older and younger adult comprehension and recall of medication information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-256
Number of pages26
JournalExperimental Aging Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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