BACKGROUND/STUDY CONTEXT: The role of processing speed and working memory was investigated in terms of individual differences in task-specific paired associates learning in a sample of older adults. Task-specific learning, as distinct from content-oriented item-specific learning, refers to gains in performance due to repeated practice on a learning task in which the to-be-learned material changes over trials.
Methods: Learning trajectories were modeled within an intensive repeated-measures design based on participants obtained from an opt-in Internet-based sampling service (M(age) = 65.3, SD = 4.81). Participants completed an eight-item paired associates task daily over a 7-day period.
Results: Results indicated that a three-parameter hyperbolic model (i.e., initial level, learning rate, and asymptotic performance) best described learning trajectory. After controlling for age-related effects, both higher working memory and higher processing speed had a positive effect on all three learning parameters.
Conclusion: These results emphasize the role of cognitive abilities for individual differences in task-specific learning of older adults.