The Processing-Speed Theory of Adult Age Differences in Cognition

Psychol Rev. 1996 Jul;103(3):403-28. doi: 10.1037/0033-295x.103.3.403.

Abstract

A theory is proposed to account for some of the age-related differences reported in measures of Type A or fluid cognition. The central hypothesis in the theory is that increased age in adulthood is associated with a decrease in the speed with which many processing operations can be executed and that this reduction in speed leads to impairments in cognitive functioning because of what are termed the limited time mechanism and the simultaneity mechanism. That is, cognitive performance is degraded when processing is slow because relevant operations cannot be successfully executed (limited time) and because the products of early processing may no longer be available when later processing is complete (simultaneity). Several types of evidence, such as the discovery of considerable shared age-related variance across various measures of speed and large attenuation of the age-related influences on cognitive measures after statistical control of measures of speed, are consistent with this theory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attention
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reaction Time*