Adult Age Differences in Vocabulary Acquisition

Document Type

Article - Merrimack Access Only

Publication Title

Educational Gerontology

Publication Date


Abstract/ Summary

Both working memory (WM) and existing vocabulary knowledge are used when the meaning of a new word is deciphered in context. Age-related WM deficits and vocabulary strengths suggest that younger and older adults rely on these factors differently. Participants gave definitions for rare, novel words that appeared in short passages. Three measures of each individual difference factor (WM and vocabulary) were administered. Older adults gave more complete definitions for the novel words, had higher vocabulary knowledge test scores, but reduced WM scores compared to younger adults. As predicted, existing vocabulary knowledge contributed more to extracting word meaning from context than did WM for the older adults only.