|Abstract: As people get older, their behavior on many different kinds of tasks tends to become slower, less accurate, and more variable. I will describe a theoretical framework that focuses purely on the behavior emitted by younger and older adults performing response-time and memory span tasks. Our findings support some distinctions in the cognitive psychology literature but not others, and our approach provides empirical bases for deciding which distinctions need to be made and which do not. For example, data on age-related behavioral slowing support the distinction between verbal and visuospatial processing, with the latter being much more sensitive to the effects of age. Within the verbal and visuospatial domains, however, there is little support for distinguishing between different kinds of information-processing operations, at least from an aging perspective. Similarly, data on age-related declines in working memory are also consistent with greater effects of age on memory for visuospatial information, but within each domain performance on simple span tasks declines as rapidly as performance on complex span tasks. Finally, the increased variability in older adults’ performance turns out to be an indirect consequence of the fact that they are slower, and not a direct effect of aging at all.
Joel Myerson’s convoluted career path began at the University of Michigan. An ardent science fiction fan, he switched from art to psychology after deciding the most important thing he could do with his life was contribute to the development of space travel. The way to do that, he reasoned, was by becoming a scientist, and the only science he was interested in was psychology. As a graduate student at Arizona State University, he trained monkeys for NASA, and was well on the way to fulfilling his dream. Unfortunately, the effort to turn A. S. U. into Fort Skinner in the desert failed shortly after he arrived, and most of the behavioral faculty left, ending the NASA contract. Fortunately, Peter Killeen decided to stay, and Joel became his student. After a series of post-docs and teaching positions, he and his wife Sandy Hale ended up at Washington University. Since 1992, Joel has been a Research Professor, collaborating with Sandy on cognitive aging research and doing behavioral economics research with Len Green. As Seneca the Younger wrote, “non est ad astra mollis e terris via” (especially if you are afraid to fly), but you can still accomplish a lot in St. Louis.|