Older adults do not notice their names: A new twist to a classic attention task

Moshe Naveh-Benjamin, Angela Kilb, Geoffrey B Maddox, Jenna Thomas, Hope C Fine, Tina Chen, Nelson Cowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although working memory spans are, on average, lower for older adults than young adults, we demonstrate in 5 experiments a way in which older adults paradoxically resemble higher capacity young adults. Specifically, in a selective-listening task, older adults almost always failed to notice their names presented in an unattended channel. This is an exaggeration of what high-span young adults show and the opposite of what low-span young adults show. This striking finding in older adults remained significant after controlling for working memory span and for noticing their names in an attended channel. The findings were replicated when presentation rate was slowed and when the ear in which the unattended name was presented was controlled. These results point to an account of older adults' performance involving not only an inhibition factor, which allows high-span young adults to suppress the channel to be ignored, but also an attentional capacity factor, with more unallocated capacity. This capacity allows low-span young adults to notice their names much more often than older adults with comparably low working memory spans do. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2014


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