No evidence for strategic nature of age-related slowing in sentence processing.

Older adults demonstrate a slower speed of linguistic processing, including sentence processing. In nonlinguistic cognitive domains such as memory, research suggests that age-related slowing of processing speed may be a strategy adopted in order to avoid potential error and/or to spare “cognitive resources.” So far, very few studies have tested whether older adults’ slower processing speed in the linguistic domain has a strategic nature as well. To fill this gap, we tested whether older adults can maintain language processing accuracy when a faster processing speed is enforced externally. Specifically, we compared sentence comprehension accuracy in younger and older adults when sentences were presented at the participant’s median self-paced reading speed versus twice as fast. We hypothesized that an external speed increase will cause a smaller accuracy decline in older than younger adults because older adults tend to adopt self-paced processing speeds “further away” from their performance limits. The hypothesis was not confirmed: The decline in accuracy due to faster presentation did not differ by age group. Thus, we found no evidence for strategic nature of age-related slowing of sentence processing. On the basis of our experimental design, we suggest that the age-related slowing of sentence processing is caused not only by motor slowdown, but also by a slowdown in cognitive processing. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)