Cognitive aging: is there a dark side to environmental support?

Trends Cogn Sci. 2014 Jan;18(1):7-15. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2013.10.006. Epub 2013 Nov 7.


It has been known for some time that memory deficits among older adults increase when self-initiated processing is required and decrease when the environment provides task-appropriate cues. We propose that this observation is not confined to memory but can be subsumed under a more general developmental trend. In perception, learning or memory, and action management, older adults often rely more on external information than younger adults do, probably both as a direct reflection and indirect adaptation to difficulties in internally triggering and maintaining cognitive representations. This age-graded shift from internal towards environmental control is often associated with compromised performance. Cognitive aging research and the design of aging-friendly environments can benefit from paying closer attention to the developmental dynamics and implications of this shift.

Keywords: cognitive aging; cognitive control; environmental support; self-initiated processing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Cues*
  • Environment*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Humans