It is widely accepted that the level of cognitive functioning can be influenced by characteristics of the environment that change over time. Many developmental researchers have referred to these influences as cohort effects, and have used year of birth as the basis for determining cohort membership. Furthermore, age-related differences in cognitive functioning are sometimes assumed to be primarily attributable to cohort differences, which implies that differences between birth cohorts should be much larger than differences within birth cohorts. Comparisons of composite scores for five cognitive abilities in different people tested at different ages in different years revealed that within-cohort differences across ages were often as large as between-cohort differences across ages. These results lead to questions about the practice of relying on birth cohort to represent influences on cognitive functioning associated with temporal shifts in characteristics of the environment.
cohort differences; cross-sectional; aging; cognitive ability; intelligence
The idea that video games or computer-based applications can improve cognitive function has led to a proliferation of programs claiming to “train the brain.” However, there is often little scientific basis in the development of commercial training programs, and many research-based programs yield inconsistent or weak results. In this study, we sought to better understand the nature of cognitive abilities tapped by casual video games and thus reflect on their potential as a training tool. A moderately large sample of participants (n=209) played 20 web-based casual games and performed a battery of cognitive tasks. We used cognitive task analysis and multivariate statistical techniques to characterize the relationships between performance metrics. We validated the cognitive abilities measured in the task battery, examined a task analysis-based categorization of the casual games, and then characterized the relationship between game and task performance. We found that games categorized to tap working memory and reasoning were robustly related to performance on working memory and fluid intelligence tasks, with fluid intelligence best predicting scores on working memory and reasoning games. We discuss these results in the context of overlap in cognitive processes engaged by the cognitive tasks and casual games, and within the context of assessing near and far transfer. While this is not a training study, these findings provide a methodology to assess the validity of using certain games as training and assessment devices for specific cognitive abilities, and shed light on the mixed transfer results in the computer-based training literature. Moreover, the results can inform design of a more theoretically-driven and methodologically-sound cognitive training program.
Working memory; Reasoning; Fluid intelligence; Video games; Cognitive training; Casual games
Data from 33 separate studies were combined to create an aggregate data
set consisting of 16 cognitive variables and 6832 different individuals who
ranged between 18 and 95 years of age. Analyses were conducted to determine
where in a hierarchical structure of cognitive abilities individual differences
associated with age, gender, education, and self-reported health could be
localized. The results indicated that each type of individual difference
characteristic exhibited a different pattern of influences within the
hierarchical structure, and that aging was associated with four statistically
distinct influences; negative influences on a second-order common factor and on
first-order speed and memory factors, and a positive influence on a first-order
Individual differences; First-/second-order factors; Hierarchical structure
Performance on a wide variety of memory tasks can be hypothesized to be influenced by processes associated with controlling the contents of memory. In this project 328 adults ranging from 18 to 93 years of age performed six tasks (e.g., multiple trial recall with an interpolated interference list, directed forgetting, proactive interference, and retrieval inhibition) postulated to yield measures of the effectiveness of memory control. Although most of the patterns from earlier studies were replicated, only a few of the measures of memory control were reliable at the level of individual differences. Furthermore, the memory control measures had very weak relations with the age of the participant. Analyses examining the relations between established cognitive abilities and variables from the experimental tasks revealed that most of the variables were related only to episodic memory ability.
Control of memory contents; Aging; Individual differences; Memory processing
Across domains of functioning, research has shown substantial within-person variability in a number of different types of variables from one measurement occasion to another. Using data obtained from a large sample (n = 784, 18–97 years) at three separate occasions, we examined properties and correlates of short-term variability in a construct that by definition is prone to fluctuations, namely state anxiety. Our results revealed that participants exhibited sizeable across-occasion variation in state anxiety. The magnitude of variability was unrelated to age, but was associated with a number of individual difference characteristics such as self-reported health, aspects of personality, well-being, and cognition. However, after taking into account mean-level differences in state anxiety, evidence for unique associations of variability was minimal.
adult lifespan; emotion; intraindividual variability; mood
Latent growth models were applied to data on multitrial verbal and spatial learning tasks from two independent studies. Although significant individual differences in both initial level of performance and subsequent learning were found in both tasks, age differences were found only in mean initial level, and not in mean learning. In neither task was fluid or crystallized intelligence associated with learning. Although there were moderate correlations among the level parameters across the verbal and spatial tasks, the learning parameters were not significantly correlated with one another across task modalities. These results are inconsistent with the existence of a general (e.g., material-independent) learning ability.
Verbal learning; Spatial learning; General learning ability; Intelligence; Growth curve models
Although it is often claimed that verbal abilities are relatively well maintained across the adult lifespan, certain aspects of language production have been found to exhibit cross-sectional differences and longitudinal declines. In the current project age-related differences in controlled and naturalistic elicited language production tasks were examined within the context of a reference battery of cognitive abilities in a moderately large sample of individuals aged 18–90. The results provide support for age-related increases in lexical sophistication and diversity at the discourse level, and declines in grammatical complexity in controlled and naturalistic contexts. Further, age-related decreases in facility with complex grammatical constructions in controlled sentence production were statistically independent of the cognitive abilities assessed in this project.
Grammatical complexity; Ageing; Cognitive abilities
In this commentary on P. M. Greenwood’s Functional Plasticity in Cognitive Aging: Review and Hypothesis (2007), the author raises a number of questions stimulated by the article. Although it may be premature to expect answers to those questions, the author argues that they ultimately need to be addressed and answered before Greenwood’s speculations can be considered true hypotheses rather than a conceptual framework.
cognitive aging; conceptual framework; plasticity
Two studies with moderately large samples of participants were conducted to examine correlates of false recognition. In Experiment 1 false recognition of words was found to be a robust and reliable phenomenon at the level of individuals, and the tendency to classify critical lures as old was more closely related to the correct classification of old items as old than to the incorrect classification of unrelated new items as old. False recognition was not significantly related to any of the cognitive abilities that were assessed, including episodic memory, or to other factors such as personality and chronic mood. In Experiment 2 these findings were extended to include dot pattern and face stimuli. Although measures of veridical memory were significantly correlated across the different types of stimulus material, false recognition rates only had modest and generally not significant correlations, which suggests that the tendency to produce false recognitions may be a task-specific characteristic of individuals.
Although most psychological assessments are based on measures related to an individual's average level of performance, it has been proposed that measures of variability around one's average may provide unique individual difference information and have clinical significance. The current study investigated properties of within-person variability in measures of performance accuracy in a sample of more than 1,700 healthy adults. Contrary to what has been reported with measures of within-person variability in reaction time, measures of within-person variability in performance accuracy from different cognitive tests had weak correlations with one another, very low stability across time, and near-zero correlations with longitudinal change in cognitive abilities.
aging; cognition; variability
Samples of adults across a wide age range performed a battery of 16 cognitive tests in 3 sessions within an interval of approximately 2 weeks. Estimates of within-person variability across the 3 assessments were relatively large and were equivalent in magnitude to the cross-sectional age differences expected over an interval of 15–25 years. These findings raise questions about the precision of assessments based on a single measurement and imply that it may be difficult to distinguish true change from short-term fluctuation. Because there were large individual differences in the magnitude of this variability, it is proposed that change might be most meaningfully expressed in units of each individual’s own across-session variability.
cognition; aging; longitudinal change; measurement burst
Recent studies have documented that normal adults exhibit considerable variability in cognitive performance from one occasion to another. We investigated this phenomenon in a study in which 143 adults ranging from 18 to 97 years of age performed different versions of 13 cognitive tests in three separate sessions. Substantial within-person variability was apparent across 13 different cognitive variables, and there were also large individual differences in the magnitude of within-person variability. Because people differ in the amount of short-term variability, we propose that this variability might provide a meaningful basis for calibrating change in longitudinal research. Correlations among the measures of within-person variability were very low, even after we adjusted for reliability, and there was little evidence that increased age was associated with a larger amount of within-person variability.
Longitudinal multivariate mixed models were used to examine the correlates of change between memory and processing speed and the contribution of age and retest to such change correlates. Various age- and occasion-mixed models were fitted to 2 longitudinal data sets of adult individuals (N > 1,200). For both data sets, the results indicated that the correlation between the age slopes of memory and processing speed decreased when retest effects were included in the model. If retest effects existed in the data but were not modeled, the correlation between the age slopes was positively biased. The authors suggest that although the changes in memory and processing speed may be correlated over time, age alone does not capture such a covariation.
multivariate models of change; longitudinal methodology; multivariate latent growth curves; practice effects
Two tasks hypothesized to assess the efficiency of route selection were administered to 328 adults ranging from 18 to 93 years of age. Increased age was associated with slower completion of mazes, even after adjusting for differences in perceptual-motor speed, and with longer and less accurate routes in a task in which participants were asked to visit designated exhibits in a zoo. The route selection measures were correlated with measures hypothesized to represent executive functioning, such as the number of categories in the Wisconsin card sorting test and the number of words generated in a category fluency test. However, most of the age-related influences on the measures from the route selection tasks were shared with age-related effects on established cognitive abilities, which implies that the same mechanisms may account for the relations of age on both sets of variables.
Route selection; Aging; Executive functioning
Although differences among people are frequently assumed to increase with age, cross-sectional comparisons of measures of brain structure and measures of cognitive functioning often reveal similar magnitudes of between-person variability across most of adulthood. The phenomenon of nearly constant variability despite systematically lower means with increased age suggests that individual differences in rates of aging may be relatively small, particularly compared to the individual differences apparent at any age. The current study examined between-person variability in cross-sectional means and in short-term longitudinal changes in five cognitive abilities at different ages in adulthood. The variability in both level and change in cognitive performance was found to be similar among healthy adults from 25 to 75 years of age in all five cognitive abilities. Furthermore, the correlations between scores at the first and second occasions were very high, and nearly the same magnitude at all ages. The results indicate that between-person differences in short-term cognitive changes are not inevitably greater among healthy older adults than among young adults.
A total of 3,781 healthy adults between 18 and 97 years of age completed trait anxiety and depressive symptoms inventories and also performed a battery of cognitive tests. Consistent with recent research on cognitive abilities, the cognitive variables could be organized into a hierarchical structure, with 5 first-order abilities and a single g-factor representing the variance common to the first-order abilities at the top of the hierarchy. Analyses were conducted to determine where in this hierarchy effects associated with trait anxiety and depressive symptoms were operating. The results indicated that trait anxiety and depressive symptoms had significant relations at the highest level in the hierarchy of cognitive abilities, but few relations of either characteristic were evident on the cognitive abilities, or on measures of working memory, after controlling influences at the g-factor level.
cognitive abilities; mood effects; level of influence; hierarchical structure of cognitive ability
Longitudinal change in five cognitive abilities was investigated to determine if the direction or magnitude of change was related to the individual’s ability level. Adults between 18 and 97 years of age performed three versions of 16 cognitive tests on two occasions separated by an average of 2.7 years. In order to control for influences associated with regression toward the mean, level of ability was determined from scores on the first version of the cognitive tests on the first occasion, and across-occasion change was examined on the second and third versions. Change in every cognitive ability was significantly more negative with increased age. However, there was little indication of ability-dependent change in any of the five cognitive abilities, either in differences between composite scores, or in estimates of latent change. Although there are reasons to expect cognitive change to be less negative at either high or low levels of ability, these data suggest that neither the direction nor magnitude of change is related to initial ability when influences of regression toward the mean are controlled.
aging; longitudinal change; ability-dependent change; regression toward the mean
Two major challenges facing researchers interested in cognitive change are that measures of change are often not very reliable, and they may reflect effects of prior test experience in addition to the factors of primary interest. One approach to dealing with these problems is to obtain multiple measures of change on parallel versions of the same tests in a measurement burst design. A total of 783 adults performed three parallel versions of cognitive tests on two occasions separated by an average of 2.6 years. Performance increased substantially across the three sessions within each occasion, and for all but vocabulary ability these within-occasion improvements were considerably larger than the between-occasion changes. Reliabilities of the changes in composite scores were low, but averages of the three changes had larger, albeit still quite modest, reliabilities. In some cognitive abilities individual differences were evident in the relation of prior test experience and the magnitude of longitudinal change. Although multiple assessments are more time consuming than traditional measurement procedures, the resulting estimates of change are more robust than those from conventional methods, and also allow the influence of practice on change to be systematically investigated.
Longitudinal; Aging; Neurocognitive; Reliable change; Measurement burst; Gains and losses
Adult age differences in a variety of cognitive abilities are well documented, and many of those abilities have been found to be related to success in the workplace and in everyday life. However, increased age is seldom associated with lower levels of real-world functioning, and the reasons for this lab-life discrepancy are not well understood. This article briefly reviews research concerned with relations of age to cognition, relations of cognition to successful functioning outside the laboratory, and relations of age to measures of work performance and achievement. The final section discusses several possible explanations for why there are often little or no consequences of age-related cognitive declines in everyday functioning.
cognitive aging; cognitive functioning; job performance; accommodations; typical versus maximal performance
Individual differences associated with age and various neurological conditions are often found in many different neuropsychological and cognitive variables. These variables are frequently treated as though they were independent of one another, with the results interpreted in terms of effects on task-specific processes. However, an alternative perspective evaluates the breadth of the individual difference influences, and takes relations with other variables into account when considering effects on specific neurocognitive variables. This analytical procedure is illustrated in analyses of the WAIS-IV and WMS-IV standardization data, and of data from the Virginia Cognitive Aging Project.
Cognition; Memory; Aging; Correlation study; Statistical models; Multivariate analysis
Significant declines in longitudinal comparisons of neurocognitive performance are seldom evident until adults are in their 60s or older, but relatively little is known about the existence, or nature, of age-related changes at earlier periods in adulthood. The current research was designed to address this issue by examining characteristics of change in measures from 12 neuropsychological and cognitive tests at different periods in adulthood. Although change was largely positive for adults under about 55 years of age and frequently negative for adults at older ages, the reliabilities of the changes in the neuropsychological and cognitive variables were similar at all ages. Furthermore, there were few systematic relations of age on the reliability-adjusted correlations between the changes in composite scores representing different abilities. These results imply that although neurocognitive declines may not be apparent at young ages because of positive retest effects or other factors, at least in some respects longitudinal changes may have nearly the same meaning across all of adulthood.
aging; cognitive change; longitudinal; reliability
Interpretation of cognitive change has been complicated because different influences on change are not easily distinguished. In this study, longitudinal cognitive change was decomposed into a component related to the length of the interval between test occasions (i.e., time-dependent change) and a component unrelated to the test-retest interval (i.e., time-independent change). Influences of age on the two hypothesized components were investigated in a sample of more than 1,500 adults for whom the intervals between test occasions ranged from less than 1 year to more than 8 years. Although overall change was negatively related to age for all seven composite cognitive variables, little or no effect of age was apparent for the time-dependent component of change. The results suggest that the relations between age and cognitive change over intervals of less than 8 years are largely influenced by factors operating at or near the initial test occasion.
longitudinal; cognitive change; aging; retest interval
Although an increasing number of studies have investigated relations between dimensions of personality and level of cognitive functioning, the research results have been somewhat inconsistent. Furthermore, relatively little is known about whether the personality–cognition relations vary as a function of age in adulthood. The current project examined these issues with data from a sample of 2,317 adults between 18 and 96 years of age who each completed a personality inventory and performed a broad battery of cognitive tests. The results revealed strong relations of the personality trait of Openness with several distinct cognitive abilities and smaller relations of other personality traits with specific cognitive abilities. Comparisons across different age groups indicated that the personality–cognition relations were both qualitatively and quantitatively similar across the adult years.
Big Five; cognition; age; structural invariance
The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale–fourth edition (WAIS-IV) and the Wechsler Memory Scale–fourth edition (WMS-IV) were co-developed to be used individually or as a combined battery of tests. The independent factor structure of each of the tests has been identified; however, the combined factor structure has yet to be determined. Confirmatory factor analysis was applied to the WAIS-IV/WMS-IV Adult battery (i.e., age 16-69 years) co-norming sample (n = 900) to test 13 measurement models. The results indicated that two models fit the data equally well. One model is a seven-factor solution without a hierarchical general ability factor: Verbal Comprehension, Perceptual Reasoning, Processing Speed, Auditory Working Memory, Visual Working Memory, Auditory Memory, and Visual Memory. The second model is a five-factor model composed of Verbal Comprehension, Perceptual Reasoning, Processing Speed, Working Memory, and Memory with a hierarchical general ability factor. Interpretative implications for each model are discussed.
WAIS-IV; WMS-IV; joint factor analysis; confirmatory factor analysis; memory; working memory; intelligence
There are many reports of relations between age and cognitive variables and of relations between age and variables representing different aspects of brain structure, and a few reports of relations between brain structure variables and cognitive variables. These findings have sometimes led to inferences that the age-related brain changes cause the age-related cognitive changes. Although this conclusion may well be true, it is widely recognized that simple correlations are not sufficient to warrant causal conclusions, and other types of correlational information, such as mediation and correlations between longitudinal brain changes and longitudinal cognitive changes, also have limitations with respect to causal inferences. These issues are discussed, and the existing results on relations of regional volume, white matter hyperintensities, and DTI measures of white matter integrity to age and to measures of cognitive functioning are reviewed. It is concluded that at the current time the evidence that these aspects of brain structure are neuroanatomical substrates of age-related cognitive decline is weak. The final section contains several suggestions concerned with measurement and methodology that may lead to stronger conclusions in the future.