Differences in chunking behavior between young and older adults diminish with extended practice.


Cognitive Psychology and Ergonomics, MIRA, University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands. [Email]


Previous research found reduced motor chunking behavior in older adults compared to young adults. However, it remains unclear whether older adults are unable to use a chunking strategy or whether they are just slower in developing them. Our goal was to investigate the effect of extended practice on the development of chunking behavior in healthy older adults. A group of young and a group of healthy older adults between 74 and 85 years of age visited the lab on 2 days. A sequence of 3 and a sequence of 6 elements were both practiced 432 times in a discrete sequence production task. We found that age differences in chunking behavior, as measured by the difference between initiation and execution of the sequence, diminish with extended practice. Furthermore, in older, but not in young adults, slow responses that are often interpreted as the first response of a next motor chunk were associated with a finger that was also slow during performance of the random sequences. This finding calls for more attention to biomechanical factors in future theory about aging and sequence learning.