Learning and memory abilities tend to decline as people age. The current study examines the question of whether a learning situation that emphasises collaborative social interaction might help older persons overcome age-related learning and memory changes and thus perform similarly to younger persons. Younger and Older participants (n = 34 in each group) completed the Barrier Task (BT), a game-like social interaction where partners work together to develop labels for a set of abstract tangrams. Participants were also administered standard clinical neuropsychological measures of memory, on which the Older group showed expected inferiority to the Younger group. On the BT, the Older group performed less well than the Younger group early on, but as the task progressed, the performance of the Older group caught up and became statistically indistinguishable from that of the Younger group. These results can be taken to suggest that a learning milieu characterised by collaborative social interaction can attenuate some of the typical memory disadvantages associated with being older.
Keywords: Ageing; Collaborative discourse; Learning; Memory; Social interaction.