Walking while memorizing: age-related differences in compensatory behavior

Psychol Sci. 2001 May;12(3):230-7. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.00341.


This study investigated predictions of the life-span theory of selection, optimization, and compensation, focusing on different patterns of task priority during dual-task performance in younger and older adults. Cognitive (memorizing) and sensorimotor (walking a narrow track) performance were measured singly, concurrently, and when task difficulty was manipulated. Use of external aids was measured to provide another index of task priority. Before dual-task testing, participants received extensive training with each component task and external aid. Age differences in dual-task costs were greater in memory performance than walking, suggesting that older adults prioritized walking over memory. Further, when given a choice of compensatory external aids to use, older adults optimized walking, whereas younger adults optimized memory performance. The results have broad implications for systemic theories of cognitive and sensorimotor aging, and the costs and benefits of assistive devices and environmental support for older populations.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Self-Help Devices / psychology
  • Walking / psychology*
  • Word Association Tests