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Article

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

Psychology and Aging. 2018. Vol. 33. No. 7. P. 1045-1059.
Malyutina S., Laurinavichyute A., Terekhina M., Lapin Y.

Older adults demonstrate a slower speed of linguistic processing, including sentence
processing. In non-linguistic 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. Based on 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.