A large-scale research project is proposed for the purpose of (a) exploring the roles played by speed of information processing and working memory capability in determining learning proficiency, and (b) examining the impact of aging-related changes in the interrelationships among these factors. These issues will be addressed within the conceptual context of an """"""""interactive common sources framework"""""""", in which speed of information processing and working memory capability are considered two cognitive sources drawn upon by individuals as they engage in learning tasks. Individual and age-related differences in these sources will be examined in the proposed project by assessing the performance of young, middle-aged, and old adults on of series of information-processing tasks. Speeded tasks will include the Posner physical identity task, numerical operations, mental rotation, and the digit-symbol subtest from the WAIS. Speed of memory scanning will be measured with variations on the Sternberg procedure involving digits, words, and figures as stimuli. Working memory tasks include an adaptation of the Daneman & Carpenter procedure as well as forward and backward digit-span. Effort will be made to develop or adapt a satisfactory spatial working memory task. Measures of performance on the information-processing tasks will be used to predict different aspects of subjects' performance on a battery of experimental learning tasks (including a Daily Menu Task, Bus Schedule Tasks, and Direction Judgment Task) designed to reflect learning activities in everyday life. Data analysis will focus on two issues: (a) age-related differences in performance on the information- processing and learning tasks, and (b) the stability of relationships among speed of information processing, working memory capability, and learning proficiency. Selected information- processing and learning tasks will be re-administered to a subset of subjects a year after initial administration to examine issues of stability and rate of re-learning. Results from the project will fill existing gaps in scientific knowledge of the determinants of learning abilities and will provide new information regarding the learning abilities of older individuals. Valid information about these abilities should have a significant impact on societal expectations regarding appropriate roles for elderly individuals in contemporary society.
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