Effects of Working Memory Load and Age on the Comprehension of Passive Sentences

  •  Xinmiao Liu    


The ability of older adults to comprehend sentences may decline due to the cognitive changes in working memory. Therefore, an increase in working memory demands during sentence comprehension would result in poorer performance among older adults. To test this hypothesis, the present study explored sentence comprehension as a result of manipulations of age and working memory loads using a sentence-picture matching task. 35 older adults and 35 younger adults were required to match Mandarin passive sentences (high working memory load) and active sentences (low working memory load) with pictures. Passive sentences were found to be more difficult than active sentences for all participants. Older adults responded to passive sentences more slowly than younger adults. However, no significant age difference was found in accuracy of responses. Accuracy on passive sentence comprehension was marginally correlated with syntactic complexity effect among older adults. Compared with younger adults, older adults seem to be more disrupted by the increased WM load in passive sentence comprehension, but they can compensate for the decline in the accuracy of comprehension by spending extra time on sentences with high WM load.

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