Aging & Skill Acquisition Article List

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Touron, D. R., & Hertzog, C. (2014).  Accuracy and speed feedback: global and local effects on strategy use.  Experimental Aging Research, 40, 332-356.

Background/Study Context: Skill acquisition often involves a shift from an effortful algorithm-based strategy to more fluent memory-based performance. Older adults’ slower strategy transitions can be ascribed to both slowed learning and metacognitive factors. Experimenters often provide feedback on response accuracy; this emphasis may either inadvertently reinforce older adults’ conservatism or might highlight that retrieval is generally quite accurate. Response time (RT) feedback can lead to more rapid shift to retrieval (Hertzog, Touron, & Hines, 2007, Psychology and Aging, 22, 607–624).

Methods: This study parametrically varied trial-by-trial feedback to examine whether strategy shifts in the noun-pair task in younger (M = 19) and older (M = 67) adults were influenced by type of performance feedback: none, trial accuracy, trial RT, or both accuracy and RT.

Results: Older adults who received accuracy feedback retrieved more often, particularly on difficult rearranged trials, and participants who receive speed feedback performed the scanning strategy more quickly. Age differences were also obtained in local (trial-level) reactivity to task performance, but these were not affected by feedback.

Conclusions: Accuracy and speed feedback had distinct global (general) influences on task strategies and performance. In particular, it appears that the standard practice of providing trial-by-trial accuracy feedback might facilitate older adults’ use of retrieval strategies in skill acquisition tasks.

External Link: doi: 10.1080/0361073X.2014.897150


Frank, D. J., Touron, D. R., & Hertzog, C. (2013). Age differences in in strategy shift: retrieval avoidance or general shift reluctance? Psychology and Aging, 28, 778-788.

ABSTRACT: Previous studies of metacognitive age differences in skill acquisition strategies have relied exclusively on tasks with a processing shift from an algorithm to retrieval strategy. Older adults’ demonstrated reluctance to shift strategies in such tasks could reflect either a specific aversion to a memory retrieval strategy or a general, inertial resistance to strategy change. Haider and Frensch’s (1999) alphabet verification task (AVT) affords a non-retrieval-based strategy shift. Participants verify the continuation of alphabet strings such as D E F G [4] L, with the bracketed digit indicating a number of letters to be skipped. When all deviations are restricted to the letter-digit-letter portion, participants can speed their responses by selectively attending to only that part of the stimulus. We adapted the AVT to include conditions that promoted shift to a retrieval strategy, a selective attention strategy, or both strategies. Item-level strategy reports were validated by eye movement data. Older adults shifted more slowly to the retrieval strategy but more quickly to the selective attention strategy than young adults, indicating a retrieval-strategy avoidance. Strategy confidence and perceived strategy difficulty correlated with shift to the two strategies in both age groups. Perceived speed of responses with each strategy specifically correlated with older adults’ strategy choices, suggesting that some older adults avoid retrieval because they do not appreciate its efficiency benefits.

External Link: doi: 10.1037/a0030473


Hines, J. C., Hertzog, C., & Touron, D. (2012). A prelearning manipulation falsifies a pure associational deficit account of retrieval shift during skill acquisition. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 19, 449-478.

ABSTRACT: Older adults adopt memory-based response strategies during consistent practice more slowly and less completely than younger adults. In two experiments, participants either prelearned all, half, or none of the noun-pair stimuli prior to the completion of a standard noun-pair lookup task. Higher proportions of prelearning generally led to a faster and more complete strategic shift from visual scanning to memory retrieval during the lookup task, and a strong prelearning criterion for all items eliminated the age-related slowing of retrieval shift. However, the 50% prelearned condition resulted in strategy shift that was inconsistent with simple mechanistic associative learning, revealing a strategic set that was retrieval-avoidant in older adults.

External Link: doi: 10.1080/13825585.2011.630718


Touron, D. R., Hertzog, C., & Frank, D. (2011). Eye movements and strategy shift in skill acquisition: Adult age differences. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 66B, 151-159.

Objectives. The current article explores age differences in skill acquisition. We validated strategy self-reports, evaluated whether eye movements may be automatic as well as information seeking, and considered the contribution of eye movements to age differences in overall performance.

Methods. Young and older adults performed the noun-pair lookup (NP) task. With practice, pairs (e.g., IVY-BIRD) in a lookup table can be verified by memory rather than by visual search. Trials used (1) standard stimuli, (2) memory tests without the lookup table, or (3) memory tests with a table filled with uninformative placeholders.

Results. For standard trials, reported scanning was associated with more table gazes, relative to reported retrieval. The lookup table was occasionally fixated during reported retrieval, particularly by older adults, but the table target pair was no more likely to be gazed than other table pairs. For memory probes, older adults also gazed the lookup table when filled with placeholders, indicating that eye movements can represent attentional capture rather than information seeking.

Discussion. Strategy self-reports in the NP task can be considered valid measures of strategy use. However, unnecessary automatic eye movements that appear to influence older adults’ NP task performance cannot be identified by strategy reports alone.

External Link: doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbq076


Hertzog, C., & Touron, D. R. (2011). Age differences in memory retrieval shift: Governed by feeling-of-knowing?  Psychology and Aging, 27, 647-660.

ABSTRACT: The noun-pair lookup (NP) task was used to evaluate strategic shift from visual scanning to retrieval. We investigated whether age differences in feeling-of-knowing (FOK) account for older adults’ delayed retrieval shift. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: (1) standard NP learning, (2) fast binary FOK judgments, or (3) Choice, where participants had to choose in advance whether to see the look-up table or respond from memory. We found small age differences in FOK magnitudes but major age differences in memory retrieval choices that mirrored retrieval use in the standard NP task. Older adults showed lower resolution in their confidence judgments (CJs) for recognition memory tests on the NP items, and this difference appeared to influence rates of retrieval shift, given that retrieval use was correlated with CJ magnitudes in both age groups. Older adults had particular difficulty with accuracy and confidence for rearranged pairs, relative to intact pairs. Older adults’ slowed retrieval shift appears to be attributable to (1) impaired associative learning early in practice, not just a lower FOK; but also (2) retrieval reluctance

External Link: doi: 10.1037/a0021875


Mitzner, T., Touron, D. R., Rogers, W. A., & Hertzog, C. (2010). Age-related differences in eye movement based verification behavior during visual search. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 54, 1326-1330.

ABSTRACT: Visual search is an integral part of functioning in everyday life and a primary component of some occupational tasks. Older adults typically exhibit longer response times on visual search tasks compared to younger adults. Mechanisms proposed as explanations of these age-related differences include general slowing of the speed of information processing, amount of internal noise, attentional capacity, selective attention, and inhibition. This study evaluated the possibility that age-related differences in visual search may be partly due to older adults double checking to a greater degree than younger adults. Older adults did in fact double check more so than younger adults. Moreover, speed stress instructions reduced double checking behavior as well as age-related differences in double checking.

External Link:


Touron, D. R., & Hertzog, C. (2009). Age differences in strategic behavior during a computation-based skill acquisition task.Psychology and Aging, 24, 574-585.

ABSTRACT: The present experiment evaluated mechanistic and metacognitive accounts of age differences in strategy transitions during skill acquisition. Old and young participants were trained on a task involving a shift from performing a novel arithmetic algorithm to responding via associative recognition of equation-solution pairings. The strategy shift was manipulated by task instructions that either (a) equally focused on speed and accuracy, (b) encouraged retrieval use as a method toward fast responding, or (c) offered monetary incentives for fast retrieval-based performance. Monetary incentives produced a more rapid shift to retrieval relative to standard instructions; older adults showed a greater incentives effect on retrieval use than younger adults. Monetary incentives encouraged retrieval use and RT improvements despite accuracy costs (a speed-accuracy tradeoff). The pattern of results suggested a role of metacognitive and volitional factors in retrieval shift, indicating that an associative learning deficit cannot fully account for older adults’ delayed strategy shift.

External Link: doi: 10.1037/a0015966


Touron, D. R., Swaim, E. T., & Hertzog, C. (2007). Moderation of older adults’ retrieval reluctance through task instructions and monetary incentives. Journals of Gerontology: Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 62(3), 149-155.

ABSTRACT: Previous research using a noun-pair lookup task indicates that older adults delay strategy shift from visual scanning to memory retrieval despite adequate learning, and that this “retrieval reluctance” is related to subjective choice factors. Age differences in spontaneous response criteria, with older adults valuing accuracy and young adults valuing speed, might account for this phenomenon. The present experiment manipulates instructions and reward contingencies to test the flexibility of response criteria and strategy preferences. Task instructions conditions equally focused on speed and accuracy, encouraged retrieval use as a method toward fast responding, or offered monetary incentives for fast retrieval-based performance. Results indicate that older adults in the incentives condition shifted to retrieval earlier than those without incentives, bolstering the argument that reliance on retrieval is volitional.

External Link: PMID:17507582


Hertzog, C., Touron, D. R., & Hines, J. C. (2007). Does a time-monitoring deficit influence older adults’ delayed retrieval shift during skill acquisition? Psychology and Aging, 22(3), 607-624.

ABSTRACT: The authors evaluated age-related time-monitoring deficits and their contribution to older adults’ reluctance to shift to memory retrieval in the noun-pair lookup (NP) task. Older adults (M = 67 years) showed slower rates of response time (RT) improvements than younger adults (M = 19 years), because of a delayed strategy shift. Older adults estimated scanning latencies as being faster than they actually were and showed poor resolution in discriminating short from long RTs early in practice. The difference in estimated RT for retrieval and scanning strategies predicted retrieval use, independent of actual RT differences. Separate scanning and recognition memory tasks revealed larger time-monitoring differences for older adults than in the NP task. Apparently, the context of heterogeneous RTs as a result of strategy use in the NP task improved older adults’ accuracy of RT estimates. RT feedback had complex effects on time-monitoring accuracy, although it generally improved absolute and relative accuracy of RT estimates. Feedback caused older adults to shift more rapidly to the retrieval strategy in the NP task. Results suggest that deficient time monitoring plays a role in older adults’ delayed retrieval shift, although other factors (e.g., confidence in the retrieval strategy) also play a role.

External Link: PMID:17874958


Touron, D. & Hertzog, C. (2004).  Distinguishing age differences in knowledge, strategy use, and confidence during strategic skill acquisition. Psychology and Aging, 19, 452-466.

ABSTRACT: We examined how age differences in strategy selection are related to associative learning deficits and metacognitive variables, including memory ability confidence. In Experiment 1, increases in memory reliance for performance of the noun-pair lookup task were compared to increases in noun-pair memory ability. In Experiment 2, memory reliance was assessed for noun-pairs memorized prior to the task. In each experiment, older adults manifested a substantial delay in transition to a retrieval-based strategy despite comparable noun-pair knowledge. In Experiment 3, young and older adults reported comparable confidence ratings for the accuracy of each memory probe response. However, older adults reported lower confidence in their general ability to use the memory retrieval strategy, which correlated with avoidance of the retrieval strategy. Age deficits in associative learning mechanisms are not sufficient to account for age differences in strategy shift or in rates of noun-pair performance improvements.

External Link: PMID:15382996


Touron, D. & Hertzog, C. (2004).  Strategy Shift Affordance and Strategy Choice in Young and Older Adults. Memory & Cognition, 32, 298-312.

ABSTRACT: When skill acquisition involves a shift in strategy (such as from rule-based to retrieval-based processing), older adults typically shift later in practice than young adults. We observed the shift from scanning-based to memory-based processing in a noun-pair learning task. Young and older adults were trained in conditions where the relationship between memory load and scanning load was manipulated by making the strategy shift more or less beneficial.  Older adults in a condition with high shift affordance shifted to memory retrieval more fully and more rapidly than did older adults in a conditions with lower shift affordance. Reluctance to rely on memory retrieval was related to metacognitive reports of memory confidence. The present study indicates that age differences in skill acquisition reflect qualitative differences in strategy choice in addition to quantitative differences in component task ability.

External Link: PMID:15190721


Rogers, W. A., Hertzog, C., & Fisk, A. D. (2000).  An individual differences analysis of ability and strategy influences: Age-related differences in associative learningJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 26, 359-394.

ABSTRACT: The relationships among abilities, strategies, and performance on an associative learning task were investigated for young (aged 17 to 34) and older adults (aged 60 to 82) participants. Participants received extensive practice on a noun-pair task in which they could use a visual-scanning strategy or a memory-retrieval strategy. Older adults were more likely to use the scanning strategy. Age differences were reduced when comparisons were made only for participants using a retrieval strategy. Associative memory was predictive of learning on the task, and semantic-memory access speed was predictive of practiced performance. Practiced performance on a memory-search task that also required associative learning was predictive of practiced noun-pair performance. Models of ability-performance relationships for skill acquisition are discussed.

External Link: PMID:10764101


Hertzog., C., Cooper, B. P., & Fisk, A. D. (1996).  Aging and individual differences in the development of skilled memory search performance.  Psychology and Aging, 11, 497-520.

ABSTRACT: We examined individual differences in measures of multiple intellectual abilities and performance on a pure memory search task over 5 experimental sessions. Old (n = 104) and young (n = 97) participants showed expected patterns of substantial improvement in meory search intercepts and slopes in consistenly mapped (CM) conditions, relative to varied mapping (VM) conditions. Initial (unskilled) CM and VM memory search was highly correlated with a Semantic Memory Access Speed factor and moderatley correlated with General Intelligence. Structural equation models showed that measures of Semantic Memory Access remained a strong predictor of skilled CM search performance in both age groups despite individual differences in CM memory search performance changes. These results indicate qualitative differences in the nature of automatically between memory search and visual search and suggest age invariance in the mechanisms determinging automaticity in memory search.

External Link: PMID:8893318


Rogers, W. A., Fisk, A. D., & Hertzog. C. (1994).  Do ability-performance relationships differentiate age and practice effects in visual search?  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 20, 710-738.

ABSTRACT: Relationships between abilities and performance in visual search were investigated for young and old adults. Ss received extensive practice on category search task. A consistent version allowed development of an automatic attention response; a varied version allowed general performance improvements. Transfer conditions assessed learning. General ability, induction, semantic knowledge, working memory, perceptual speed, semantic memory access, and psychomotor speed were accessed. LISREL models revealed that general ability and semantic memory access predicted initial performance for both ages. Improvements on both the consistent and varied tasks were predicted by perceptual speed. Ability-performance relationships indexed performance changes but were not predictive of learning (i.e., automatic process vs. general efficiency). Qualitative differences in the ability-transfer models suggest age differences in learning.

External Link: PMID:8207376