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Hasher, 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, 2000; Craik & 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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