Text comprehension, cognitive resources and aging
Chesneau S., Jbabdi S., Champagne-Lavau M., Giroux F., Ska B.
Aging brings cognitive changes. Language is not immune to these changes. The use of compensation strategies may permit older adults to achieve a performance level identical to the one obtained by younger adults. This research aims to study text comprehension in aging and the reading strategies used for by older and younger adults. Kintsch's cognitive model (1988) allows the identification of different levels of representation within text treatment (linguistic form, macrostructure, microstructure and situation model) and predicts the underlying cognitive components. Eye-tracking analyses during reading permit inference about the moments of reading treatment and detection of reading strategies. Sixty highly educated participants were assessed. They were divided in two age groups (20-40 and 60-80 years old). Participants were asked to read and understand three texts constructed to highlight the features of text comprehension within each one of the different levels of text representation. The amount of detail and the necessity of updating the situation model varied for each text. Eye movements were registered by an eyetracker (Cambridge research) during the reading process. Specific complementary tasks were administered to evaluate working memory, long-term memory, and executive functions. Variances analyses showed significantly lower performance by older adults regarding: 1) recall of the microstructure of the two texts with a high degree of detail, 2) macrostructure of the text with fewer details, and 3) performance on all tasks that evaluated cognitive components. Aging influenced treatment of levels of text representation depending on text characteristics. However, cluster analysis of the text comprehension and eye-tracker data revealed a group of older adults whose performance in reading comprehension was identical to the performance of younger adults, with the same reading profile. This result seems to show that use of compensation strategies by older adults at the onset of signs of cognitive deterioration is not necessary in reading.