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Is there more room to improve? The lifespan trajectory of procedural learning and its relationship to the between-and within-group differences in average response times

Is there more room to improve? The lifespan trajectory of procedural learning and its relationship to the between-and within-group differences in average response times

Juhasz, Dora, Nemeth, Dezso and Janacsek, Karolina (2019) Is there more room to improve? The lifespan trajectory of procedural learning and its relationship to the between-and within-group differences in average response times. PLoS ONE, 14 (7):e0215116. ISSN 1932-6203 (Online) (doi:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0215116)

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Abstract

Characterizing the developmental trajectories of cognitive functions such as learning, memory and decision making across the lifespan faces fundamental challenges. Cognitive functions typically encompass several processes that can be differentially affected by age. Methodological issues also arise when comparisons are made across age groups that differ in basic performance measures, such as in average response times (RTs). Here we focus on procedural learning – a fundamental cognitive function that underlies the acquisition of cognitive, social, and motor skills – and demonstrate how disentangling subprocesses of learning and controlling for differences in average RTs can reveal different developmental trajectories across the human lifespan. Two hundred-seventy participants aged between 7 and 85 years performed a probabilistic sequence learning task that enabled us to separately measure two processes of procedural learning, namely general skill learning and statistical learning. Using raw RT measures, in between-group comparisons, we found a U-shaped trajectory with children and older adults exhibiting greater general skill learning compared to adolescents and younger adults. However, when we controlled for differences in average RTs (either by using ratio scores or focusing on a subsample of participants with similar average speed), only children (but not older adults) demonstrated superior general skill learning consistently across analyses. Testing the relationship between average RTs and general skill learning within age groups shed light on further age-related differences, suggesting that general skill learning measures are more affected by average speed in some age groups. Consistent with previous studies of learning probabilistic regularities, statistical learning showed a gradual decline across the lifespan, and learning performance seemed to be independent of average speed, regardless of the age group. Overall, our results suggest that children are superior learners in various aspects of procedural learning, including both general skill and statistical learning. Our study also highlights the importance to test, and control for, the effect of average speed on other RT measures of cognitive functions, which can fundamentally affect the interpretation of group differences in developmental, aging and clinical psychology and neuroscience studies.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Copyright: © 2019 Juhasz et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Uncontrolled Keywords: procedural learning, skill learning, statistical learning, baseline reaction time, cognitive functions, memory, aging, developmental psychology, clinical neuroscience
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Faculty / Department / Research Group: Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences
Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences > Department of Psychology, Social Work & Counselling
Related URLs:
Last Modified: 16 Jan 2020 16:42
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
Selected for GREAT 2018: None
Selected for GREAT 2019: None
URI: http://gala.gre.ac.uk/id/eprint/25755

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