Effects of Adult Age and Working Memory on Reasoning and Spatial Abilities

Timothy A. Salthouse, Debora R.D. Mitchell, Eric Skovronek, Renee L. Babcock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

182 Scopus citations


Three predictions were derived from the hypothesis that adult age differences in certain measures of cognitive functioning are attributable to age-related reductions in a processing resource such as working-memory capacity. Each prediction received at least some degree of empirical support in a study involving 120 males ranging between 20 and 79 years of age. First, older adults exhibited greater impairments of performance than did young adults when task complexity increased and more demands were placed on the limited processing resources; second, the magnitudes of these complexity effects were highly correlated across verbal (reasoning) and spatial (paper folding) tasks. Finally, statistical control of an index of a working-memory processing resource attenuated the effects of age on the measures of cognitive performance. It was concluded that further progress in understanding the mechanisms of the relation between age and cognitive functioning will require improved conceptualizations of the nature of working memory or other hypothesized mediating constructs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)507-516
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1989


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