Age-Related Increases in the Effects of Automatic Semantic Activation

Document Type

Article - Merrimack Access Only

Publication Title

Psychology and Aging


American Psychological Association

Publication Date


Abstract/ Summary

Automatic semantic activation was assessed in a version of the flanker task, in which nominally irrelevant words were presented above and below a target word. The category membership of the flanking word was consistent, inconsistent, or neutral with respect to the target word. Older adults showed greater inhibition and equivalent facilitation in the time taken to classify the target words than did younger adults in 2 of 3 experiments, in contrast to previous findings. The present results are generally consistent with 3 dominant perspectives in cognitive aging: the complexity hypothesis, environmental support, and the inhibition-deficit view. Manipulation of the overall magnitude of the flanker effect produced results most consistent with the inhibition-deficit view that older adults are less able to inhibit automatic processes than are younger adults. Some problems with the inhibition-deficit view are also discussed.