Date of Award

1-1-2004

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology

School

School of Psychology

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Craig Speelman

Abstract

Two studies, involving a total of 184 adults between 17 and 89 years of age, were conducted to determine whether age differences in skill acquisition and transfer could be related to age differences in working memory functioning and anxiety. In both experiments, working memory functioning was measured using the Digit Span task (Wechsler, 1997) und the Reading Span tusk (Daneman & Carpenter, 1980), while anxiety levels were measured using the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (Spielberger, Gorsuch, Lushene, Vagg, & Jacobs, 1983). Participants were required to perform a mental arithmetic task in Experiment I, and a visual numerosity task in Experiment 2. In each experiment, participants received 240 trials of the task during u training phase (in which one set of stimuli were used) and 240 trials during a transfer phase (in which a second set of stimuli were used). The results from both studies revealed that partial positive transfer occurred from one phase to another for both young and older adults. This indicates that both age groups learned the skills in a similar way: using a combination of general und specific learning, Moreover, the older adults in both experiments became faster with practice, they generally improved as much as younger adults with practice, and they were able to achieve the same or better levels of accuracy compared to younger adults, This suggests that healthy older adults possess the ability to learn new skills. When scores for working memory span and anxiety were analysed, working memory span was found to correlate significantly with the accuracy levels and reaction times of the young age group in Experiment l, and of both age groups in Experiment 2. Similarly, anxiety levels were related to reaction times for both age groups in both experiments, with higher levels of anxiety also associated with smaller working memory spans for the young adults in both experiments. These results suggest that both working memory span and anxiety hove an impact on the performance of participants, and can account for some of the age differences observed during skill acquisition and transfer.

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