L., Tonev, S. T., Lustig, C., & Zacks, R. T. (2001). Inhibitory control,
environmental support, and self-initiated processing in aging. In M. Naveh-Benjamin,
M. Moscovitch, & R. L. Roediger, III. (Eds.), Perspectives on Human
Memory and Cognitive Aging: Essays in Honour of Fergus Craik (pp.
286-297). East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press.
The phrase "senior
moment" is increasingly common in everyday conversations among people
of a certain age. Most such "moments" center on the kinds of errors that
adults of all ages make, such as forgetting where you left your keys or
parked your car, or the name of a person you've just been introduced to.
Nonetheless, older adults believe that such moments are increasingly common
(Hertzog, Lineweaver, & McGuire, 1999), and much of the cognitive gerontology
literature would agree with this observation (see Balota, Dolan, & Dutchek,
& Jennings, 1992; Kausler, 1994; Zacks, Hasher & Li, 2000). There are
indeed, many circumstances under which the memory performance of older
adults is poorer than that of younger adults.
In addition to these "senior moments," older adults also are more likely
than young adults to complain about what might be called "attention moments,"
or difficulties in concentrating on intended events. Noise in theaters,
restaurants, and at cocktail parties is reported more bothersome to older
adults than to younger adults. This phenomenon has also been well documented
in the laboratory for both visual and auditory distraction (e.g., Connelly,
Hasher & Zacks, 1991; Rabbit, 1965; Tun, O'Kane & Wingfield, 2001; Tun
& Wingfiedl, 1999; Zacks & Hasher, 1994, see Hartley, 1992, for a review).
Indeed, a central focus of theorizing in the cognitive gerontology literature
has been to explain the empirical findings that are consistent with these
sorts of self-reports.
Recently, three major perspectives have attempted to integrate a broad
range of findings of age differences in the cognitive gerontology literature,
including both memory and attention moments. Proponents of theories that
focus on processing speed deficits (e.g., Cerella, 1985; Myerson, Hale,
Wagstaff, Poon, & Smith, 1990; Salthouse, 1991, 1996) argue that slowing
of basic level cognitive processes negatively impacts more complex functions,
such as handling distraction, with the results of slowed and inaccurate
retrieval. Another class of theories (e.g., N.D. Anderson & Craik, 2000;
Craik, 1986; Craik & Byrd, 1982) suggests that older adults' deficits
are due to age-related declines in the functional capacity of processing
resources, such as working memory. Finally, our own review, stressing
inhibitory control, also uses working memory as a central explanatory
construct (e.g., Hasher & Zacks, 1988; Hasher, Zacks, & May, 1999). However,
rather than focusing on the capacity of working memory (or reductions
therein), the inhibitory view concentrates on the contents of working
memory with a particular focus on the relevance of those contents for
current goals. Specifically, this view argues that (a) older adults have
particular difficulty in controlling what information enters and leaves
working memory and (b) inhibitory processes are fundamental in determining
both "memory" and "attention" moments, as well as apparent differences
in mental capacity and, to some degree at least, in speed as well.
Here we focus on the relationship between the inhibitory viewpoint and
ideas central to Craik's viewpoint: self-initiated processing and environmental
support. Our conclusion from this evaluation is that there is rather more
similarity between these views than a surface consideration might suggest.
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