Price, Jessica Mary
The use of focus cues in healthy ageing.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
Full text available as:
It is known that general processing resources decline with age (Craik, 1983), yet language comprehension typically remains well preserved in normal aging (Wingfield & Grossman, 2006). It is well known that placing a concept within the scope of focus either with syntactic devices or prosody increases the salience of the text information (e.g., Birch & Rayner, 1997; Cutler & Fodor, 1979; Baker & Wagner, 1987; Cooreman & Sanford, 1996; Sturt, Sanford, Stewart & Dawydiak, 2004). Since information structuring cues are used over a lifetime, it is possible that it is preserved as a cue in older adults and that it may be used to offset other processing difficulties. However, focus may be considered a linguistic equivalent of devices for manipulating selective attention, and there is evidence that older people have difficulties with some selective attention tasks, and have difficulties with the inhibition of irrelevant stimuli. It is thus difficult to predict how older people might respond to focus cues during language processing. There is no evidence regarding this question, and the present thesis contains work aimed at an answer.
This thesis presents a series of studies, including sentence continuation studies, self-paced reading studies, delayed probe recognition and eye-tracking studies, and one change detection study investigating the effect of focus and related cues on an older age group. The main findings are older adults showed in some cases larger effects of focus and subordination, in terms of reading times, change detection and probe recognition rates, than did their younger counterparts. However, older and younger participants have different processing patterns based on the proper name/role description contrast, unlike the findings from the information structuring cues. These findings are discussed in relation to existing research on how healthy adult ageing modulates language processing.
Actions (login required)