Poster Session B, Sunday, March 24, 8:00 – 10:00 am, Pacific Concourse
Younger and Older Adults Adapt Differently to Animacy Violations in Fictional Narratives: Electrophysiological Evidence
Kathryn Bousquet1, Megan Boudewyn1, Debra Long1, Fernanda Ferreira1, John Henderson1, Tamara Swaab1; 1University of California, Davis
Aging is characterized by cognitive decline in several domains, but the effect of aging on language processing is relatively unclear. In the present ERP study, we used animacy violations in fictional narratives to determine whether anticipatory processing and adaptation vary as a function of healthy aging while discourse develops. Younger and older adults listened to four-sentence passages in which the main characters were animate beings (e.g. fellow) or inanimate objects (e.g. peanut). Critical words in the fourth sentence required either animate or inanimate entities (e.g. elated/salted). We found a significant animacy effect that interacted with story position. Planned comparisons revealed that younger adults exhibited an N400 effect at the second and fourth sentences, with more negative waveforms for inanimate characters. Older adults only showed this N400 effect at the fourth sentence. The results suggest that participants anticipated upcoming animacy violations: younger adults by the second sentence, older adults by the fourth. Additionally, both groups displayed similar N400 effects at the critical words, although the latency of the effect was delayed in older adults. Waveforms were more negative for critical words that required an inanimate entity; the effect was larger for stories with animate characters than for stories with inanimate characters. This suggests that both groups relied more on discourse context than world knowledge. Collectively, the results indicate that both groups arrived at similar discourse representations, but reveal a substantial processing delay in the older adults.
Topic Area: LANGUAGE: Development & aging