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Cognitive Development in Adulthood and Old Age. Posada, M., y de la Fuente, J (2006 ). Memoria y atención. En C. Triadó y F. Villar (coords.) Psicología de la Vejez. Madrid: Alianza

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Cognitive development in adulthood and old age

Cognitive Development in Adulthood and Old Age

Posada, M., y de la Fuente, J (2006 ). Memoria y atención. En C. Triadó y F. Villar (coords.) Psicología de la Vejez. Madrid: Alianza

Villar, F. (2006). Inteligencia y sabiduría. En C. Triadó y F. Villar (coords.) Psicología de la Vejez. Madrid: Alianza


  • Psicometric Focus

    • Methodical Problemas

  • Explanations for cognitive decline

  • Successful cognitive aging

  • Information processing

  • Postformal Thought

  • Wisdom

  • Creativity



1. Investigation design:

longitudinal or transverse

Selection of subjects

2. Familiarity with the work/objectives

3. Influence of speed

4. Tendency to be cautious:

Commission errors and omission errors



5. Motivational problems

6. The problem of working with means




* Intelligenceclearlydiminisheswithage: itincreasesuntil 20-30 years, staysstable and laterdescends in a slow and steadymanner

* There are differencesbetweenabilities:

Thepunctuations in themanipulativescaledecrease y in the verbal scalestaythesameordecrease more slowly.

Psicometric Focus: Results of transverse studies

Free memory (square)

or with clues (circle)



Figure 1.1: Measure of 301 adults, living in residencies, en various measures of processing speed, operative memory, free memory y with clues and vocabulary, throughout life. Adapted with the permission of Park and co.

Psicometric Focus: Results of transverse studies

Operative Memory




Pattern completion

Letter comparison

Calculation speed

Reading speed

Inverse digits

Psicometric Focus:

Investigation results

Longitudinal Studies

* Havenotdetecteddecreasesearlierthan 60 years of age, and somecapacities are preserveduntil 80 years of age.

* After 80-85 years, the decline can putdailyfunctioning at risk.

* Someabilitiesimprove

* Thereispossibly a methodologicalbias



*Different trajectories for the fluid and crystallized intelligence fluida y para la inteligencia cristalizada

FLUID depends more on biological factores

CRYSTALLIZED more dependent on cultural factors

* Loss or terminal decline

Explanationsforcognitive decline

Hypotheses centered on the Hardware or Structure

* Sickness (especially cardiovascular and arthritis) *Hypothesis of speed or peripheral slowing down

*Hypothesis of general slowing down

* Hypothesis of the reduction of resources: attention, working memory, mental energy…

ExplanationsforCognitive Decline

Hypothesiscenteredon Software orSystemfunctioning

*Hypothesis of thelack of use (current and pastintellectualstimulation)

*Hypothesis of insufficientstrategies

* Hypothesis of contextual and generationalchanges


According to Salthouse

Accomodation: Tendency to disconnect yourself gradually from activities that supercede your cognitive limitations and to focus on other activities

Compensation: The same efficiency is maintained by changing the manner of completing work

Reparation: Intervention or training to restore cognitive abilities to a previous level



Cognitiveefficiency can be maintainedwithstrategiesthatmaximizeonstrongpoints and minimizeonweakpoints.


According to Baltes



Formal and Informal learning


Basic cognitiveprocesses

Biological and cerebral

Results of informationprocessing


According to Baltes

Functional base: habitual functioning

The reserve capacity decreases with age, although it only disappears completely with dementia.  learning potential

Processing information evaluates the Base Reserve and cognitive mechanics maximize the differences not so called upon in daily life

Base Reserve: maximumefficiencypotential


Development reserve: Maximumefficiencypotentialwithhelp: instrumental or personal


Mastery or Being an Expert

*Development of abilities and advanced knowledge in a professional activity or field

* Better sensibility to aspects relevant to a problem

* Better maintenance of information in the MLP

* Result of learning and practice

* Effectively getting close to problems and absence of transfer

* Cognitive functioning is stable in these areas, even though there are other intellectual losses  cognitive pragmatics


According to Baltes

Anteceding conditions:

Development is essentially a process of selective adaptation

The limit of resources adds an additional adaptive pressure.

More pressure comes from the changes associated with the age in plasticity and availability of external and internal resources.


Maximization of wins and minimization of losses

Successful development or consecution of priority goals

Maintaining function

Recuperation of the los of select fields

Regulation of loss (reorganization of function in inferior levels)


Selection –

Identification of fields and direction of the process of change.

Restriction of many behaviors and potential goals.

Optimization –

Better the means directed to the goals that are available.

Search of favorable environments.

Compensation –

Adquire new external and internal means to achieve goals, due to:

  • Lost means that were available earlier

  • Contexts and adaptive fields have changed

Tomado de Villar, F Titularidad.




Information Output

InformationProcessing: Attention

Thereductionwithage in thelimitedresource, necessarytoprocessinformation, would reduce efficiency en cognitiveprocesses.


Notveryaffectedwithage. Seniors are less precise en vigilancetestssincethebeginning. This can diminishduetofactorslikethediscriminabilityortheduration of stimuli.

InformationProcessing: Attention

Selective Attention

The ability to focus on important information without valuing the irrelevant aspects decreases with complex tests.

Divided Attention – Change of Attention

Deterioration with complex works in divided attention. Equal efficiency as young people, although they are slower, in changing attention. Practice can prevent this. Worse efficiency with inhibitory mechanisms

InformationProcessing: Memory

Some types of memory are affected by

old age while others stay intact.

Sensorial Memory

The majority of studies are about visual iconic memory and indicate that despite changes in vision, the effects of aging are unimportant.

It is difficult to evaluate due to the complicated distinction between the role of the senses and that of the sensorial memory.

InformationProcessing: Memory

Short-TermMemory and OperativeMemory

Short-Term differences exist en experimental situations with tests that accentuate daily situations and in linguistic or visual experiments.

Bigger problems when the work is complicated (Operative Memory)  enters the game of the executive center (attentional processes)

- Diminishment of the Operative memory capacity?

InformationProcessing: Memory

Secondaryor Long-TermMemory

Explicaciones de las pérdidas (Light, 1991 en Pousada y de la Fuente, 2006)

* Codification: Have not found empirical evidence of the idea that seniors use a more superficial process than younger people.

* Recuperation: Seniors show more difficulties en some works (word recall) and are similar in others (implicit memory, recognition, recall with clues)  the information is available (equal capacity of *storage) but not accessible.

InformationProcessing: Memory


* Empiricalevidence of animportantdeteriorationafter 30-40 years > Short-TermMemory, procedural orsemantic

* Fewdifferences in the control of reality

* Thesame in thewaythe fluid intelligencemanages new information: theevents are unpredictable. Impossibleto use routinesorlearnedschemestocodethem.

* Thedeficits are reducedwith contextual helpinginformation in thecodification and recuperation.

InformationProcessing: Memory


  • * Memory of dissociatedfacts of when and where.

  • * Scarcedeterioriationwithage, althoughthere are somedeficits: faults in findingwords and forgettingnames.

  • * Compensatethesedeficitswith a betteraccumulatedknowledge.

  • Importance of thespecificity of the material toremember: episodic= specificitysemantic= no specificity

  • * Forgettingthesource

InformationProcessing: Memory


  • Remembertocarryoutplannedactions

  • Betterresultswitholderpeople in dailysituations (More motivated? Betterstrategies?)

  • In thelab:

    • Olderpeoplebetterwithexternalcues

    • Youngerbetterwithinternalcues

InformationProcessing: Memory


Procedural Memory




Therememberdevelopedfactswell, and fromtheperiod of 10-30 years of age.

Theyrememberautobiographical and remotepublicfactsworse.

Implicit and ExplicitMemory

Explicitdeteriorates more

InformationProcessing: Memory

Longitudinal Studies (Victoria y Betula)


Worsenswithage. Young generationshaveworseefficiency, which can hidethe decline withage.

Thedifferencesbetweenseniors and youth are duetoeducationlevel, nottoage.


Worsememory of names, faces and words, butnot of texts.


ProspectiveMemory: Worsenswithage

InformationProcessing: Memory

Longitudinal Studies

Decrease in



Preserve thecapacities of


InformationProcessing: Memory


  • Changes related to age exist in memory and attention

  • MULTIDIRECCIONALITY: stability and decline that increase after 75 years


InformationProcessing: Role of education

Lower education level Faster memory deterioration and lower verbal abilities



InformationProcessing: Role of education

  • Cognitive Reserve

  • Different neuronal circuitsparticipate en theexecution of thesameworkwithorwithouteducation.

  • Thisiswhydementiaisdetectedlater.

  • Formal educationislessimportantthanrichcognitiveexperience.

Models of stages: PostformalThought

* Criticisms of postformal thought as a goal of development

Decrements with age in the capacity to resolve formal work.

Formal works do not relate to daily problems.

Ignorance of contextual and emotional aspects.

Models of Stages: PostformalThought

Caracteristics of postformal thought

Surges in the middle age with experience

Qualitatively different from formal: integrates logical and analitical reasoning with intuition

There is no uniform conception of postformal though

More interpretive and relativistic

Multicausality and multiple solutions

Models of Stages: PostformalThought

Caracteristics of postformal thought

Admits contradiction as a basic aspect of reality

Dialectic reasoning: capacity to integrate contradictory information

Finds new problems

Is pragmatic and permits better resolving social dilemmas

Find the key elements of an ambiguous and poorly-defined problem


  • Forgotten and barely studied aspect of development

  • Exceptional comprehension based in experience (cognitive pragmatics)

  • Mastery en pragmatic themes of life (planning, control, vital or sensorial revision)

  • Related to age

  • Erikson (cognitive development – socio-emotional development)


Criteria (Baltes)

Extensivedeclarativeknowledgeaboutlife (knowwhat)

Extensivepracticalknowledgeaboutlife (knowhow)

Understandingthelife as a collection of interrelatedcontexts and changesthroughoutlife

Cultural relativismalthoughthere are universal values

Metaknowledge(fallibility, relativism, uncertainty)


Responsible Factors

Context and favorable environments/experiences (cultural level, profession as an educator or directing others, …)

Experience in planning, management and vital revision as a resolution of problems, to be a mentor or advisor, motivation for human themes or an impulse to better and personal excellence

Personal disposition like creativity, intelligence, flexibility, open to new experiences


Evaluated with moral dilemmas like the following:

“A good friend calls and says they are going to commit suicide: What should you do and take into account?”

Only 5% of people appear wise.

This percentage is maintained through generations (perhaps you are wise en aspects relative to your generation and moment in life)

The number of wise answers increases with clinical psychologists or when they are resolved en groups.


  • Criticism of the Baltes Model and the Vision of Ardelt Baltes is too cognitive, 3 components are necessary

  • Cognitive component similar to that of Baltes

  • Reflexive component – to transcend your own point of view y take others into account, this requires self-consciousness

  • Affective component or to sympathize and love others, and to want common wellbeing

  • - Similar to Erikson’s idea of wisdom of integriy – related with self-esteem and wellbeing


  • Divergent thought – alternate solutions

  • Reaches the best level between 35-45 years

  • Different curves in distinct areas:

    • Math, physics, poetry at 20 years

    • Philosophy , history, literature at 50 years

    • * The song of the poet (El canto de cisne)