Influence of encoding difficulty, word frequency, and phonological regularity on age differences in word naming.
It is presently unclear as to why older adults take longer than younger adults to recognize visually presented words. To examine this issue in more detail, the authors conducted two word-naming studies (Experiment 1: 20 older adults and 20 younger adults; Experiment 2: 60 older adults and 60 younger adults) to determine the relative effects of orthographic encoding (case type), lexical access (word frequency), and phonological regularity (regular vs. irregular phonology). The hypothesis was that older adults attempt to compensate for sensory and motor slowing by using progressively larger perceptual units (holistic encoding). However, if forced to use smaller perceptual units (e.g., by using mixed-case presentation), it was predicted that older adults would be particularly challenged. Older adults did show larger case-mixing effects than younger adults (suggesting that older adults' performances were especially poor when they were forced to use smaller perceptual units), but there were no age differences in word frequency or phonological regularity even though both age groups showed main effects for these variables. These results suggest that lexical access skill remains stable in the addressed (orthographic/semantic) and assembled (phonological) routes over the life span, but that older adults slow down in recognizing words because it takes them longer to normalize (perceptually "clean up") noisier sensory information.
Allen, PA; Bucur, B; Grabbe, J; Work, T; Madden, DJ
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