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Gerard, L., Zacks, R. T., Hasher, L., & Radvansky, G. A. (1991). Age deficits in retrieval: The fan effect. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 46, 131-136.


The fan effect paradigm was used to investigate age-related changes in the effects of different levels of interference on retrieval. Younger and older adults learned a list of person-activity "facts" in which each person and each activity occurred in 1, 2, or 3 different facts (fan level). A subsequent speeded recognition test required the participants to distinguish the learned facts from foils constructed by recombining the same concepts. On this recognition test, both groups showed an increase in response time and errors as the fan level of the probe increased. For older adults these effects were larger, however, indicating an age-related increase in interference effects in retrieval. These results are consistent with a theoretical framework (Hasher & Zacks, 1988) which proposes an age-related decline in the ability to screen irrelevant information out of working memory. The findings also have implications for age differences in discourse processing and other cognitive tasks that crucially depend on the timely and accurate retrieval of stored information.

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