Age differences in language comprehension during driving: Recovery from prediction errors is more effortful for older adults


Prior research yielded conflicting findings regarding whether older adults show a greater processing cost than younger adults when encountering unpredicted semantic material during language processing. Here, we investigated whether age-related differences in recovery from prediction error are influenced by increased demands on working memory. We used a dual task design: a primary sentence comprehension task in which semantic predictions were fulfilled or violated, and a concurrent driving task, thought to limit working memory resources in resolving prediction errors. In the dual task, older participants showed an increase in comprehension accuracy for sentences with semantic violations, while demonstrating a decrease in driving accuracy. Thus, when working memory resources were limited, older adults focused exclusively on the language task and neglected the driving task. This could be related to an age-related increase in generating semantic predictions, or to a general inability among older adults to divide attention between two cognitively demanding tasks.

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