Theoretical Perspectives on Cognitive Aging

Theoretical Perspectives on Cognitive Aging

Theoretical Perspectives on Cognitive Aging

Theoretical Perspectives on Cognitive Aging

Synopsis

The phenomenon of age-related cognitive decline has long been controversial, both in terms of mere existence, and with respect to how it is explained. Some researchers have dismissed it as an artifact of declining health or lower levels of education, and others have attributed it to general changes occurring in the external environment. Still other interpretations have been based on the "use it or lose it" principle -- known as the Disuse Hypothesis -- or on the idea that there are qualitative differences in either the structure or the process of cognition across the adult years. Perhaps the most popular approach at present relies on the information-processing perspective and attempts to identify the critical processing component most responsible for age-related differences in cognition.

The primary purposes of this book are first to review the evidence of age-related differences in cognitive functioning and then to evaluate the major explanations proposed to account for the negative relations between age and cognition that have been established. Included is a discussion of theoretical dimensions and levels of scientific theorizing assumed to be helpful in understanding and evaluating alternative perspectives on cognitive aging. The various perspectives are then covered in detail and analyzed. The text concludes with observations about the progress that has been made in explaining cognitive aging phenomena, plus recommendations for research practices that might contribute to greater progress in the future.

Excerpt

If older people do, in fact, tend to perform at lower levels in assorted cognitive tasks than young people, why is this the case? What is responsible for the frequently discussed, sometimes doubted, but invariably feared, mental declines reputed to be associated with increased age? the primary purposes of this book are first to review the evidence of age-related differences in cognitive functioning, and then to evaluate the major explanations proposed to account for the negative relations between age and cognition that have been established.

Two important restrictions should be acknowledged at the outset to minimize misunderstanding about what is to be covered in this book. First, the emphasis is on normal, or at least non-pathological, aging. It is often difficult to determine whether the behavioral differences observed across people of varying ages are attributable to pathological or to non- pathological factors. However, the influence of diseases and other assorted pathologies known to be more prevalent with increased age can be presumed to be reduced by emphasizing research involving comparisons of people less than about 80 years of age who generally report themselves to be in moderate to excellent health. Most of the empirical results to be described are therefore derived from research involving research participants possessing these characteristics.

The second restriction on the current coverage is that the explanations to be examined are limited to those relying upon psychological, rather than physiological or neurological, mechanisms. Ultimately, of course, a complete explanation of any aging phenomenon will require detailed understanding of age-related influences on the structure and functioning of the biological system. Whether the biological processes are considered the . . .

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