Neuropsychology, development, and cognition. Section B, Aging, neuropsychology and cognition

Agreement processing and attraction errors in aging: evidence from subject-verb agreement in German.

PMID 27819532


Effects of aging on lexical processing are well attested, but the picture is less clear for grammatical processing. Where age differences emerge, these are usually ascribed to working-memory (WM) decline. Previous studies on the influence of WM on agreement computation have yielded inconclusive results, and work on aging and subject-verb agreement processing is lacking. In two experiments (Experiment 1: timed grammaticality judgment, Experiment 2: self-paced reading + WM test), we investigated older (OA) and younger (YA) adults' susceptibility to agreement attraction errors. We found longer reading latencies and judgment reaction times (RTs) for OAs. Further, OAs, particularly those with low WM scores, were more accepting of sentences with attraction errors than YAs. OAs showed longer reading latencies for ungrammatical sentences, again modulated by WM, than YAs. Our results indicate that OAs have greater difficulty blocking intervening nouns from interfering with the computation of agreement dependencies. WM can modulate this effect.