Is there a decline in verbal working memory over age?


  • Maurits van den Noort
  • Marco Haverkort
  • Peggy Bosch
  • Kenneth Hugdahl


In this study, the new standard computerized version of the reading span test was used to investigate the development of verbal working memory over age. A significant higher reading span and faster reaction times were expected for the young adults compared to the old adults, based on the processing resource theory (Just & Carpenter, 1992) and the theory of cognitive aging (Salthouse, 1994, 1996), and this hypothesis was confirmed. The new methodology made it possible to test whether there was an age-related increase in intrusion errors, which could be expected based on the inhibition theory of cognitive aging (Hasher & Zacks, 1988). The results showed that older adults made more intrusion errors than young adults thereby confirming the inhibition theory. Finally, the analysis of the memory-pattern showed a clear recency-effect for the young-, but not for the old adults. Interestingly, this has never been reported in literature before. Although more research is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn, this decline in recency-effect shows that there are larger age-related effects in short term memory span than was expected on the basis of aging theories so far.