Age-Related Differences in Sequential Modulations of Poorer-Strategy Effects A Study in Arithmetic Problem Solving


  • Lemaire Patrick
  • Hinault Thomas

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To determine how younger and older adults modulate execution of strategies across successive trials, we asked participants to accomplish a computational estimation task (i.e., provide approximate products to two-digit multiplication problems like 38 74). For each problem, they were cued to execute a better versus a poorer strategy. Their performance revealed sequential modulations of poorer-strategy effects (i.e., longer solution times and larger error rates when asked to execute a poorer than a better strategy). That is, poorer-strategy effects were smaller on current problems after using a poorer strategy on preceding problems than after using a better strategy. Moreover, sequential modulations of these poorer-strategy effects were smaller in older than in younger adults, especially older adults with low-cognitive control skills (as measured by conflict adaptation effects in the Simon task). Our findings suggest that these sequential modulations may result from executive control mechanisms, the efficiency of which is known to decrease in older adults. These findings have important implications regarding mechanisms underlying strategy execution and aging effects on strategic variations.

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