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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00243

Reduced syntactic processing efficiency in older adults during sentence comprehension

 Zude Zhu1*, Xiaopu Hou1 and Yiming Yang1*
  • 1School of Linguistics and Arts, Jiangsu Normal University, China

Researchers have frequently reported an age-related decline in semantic processing during sentence comprehension. However, it remains unclear whether syntactic processing also declines or whether it remains constant as people age. In the present study, 26 younger adults and 20 older adults were recruited and matched in terms of working memory, general intelligence, verbal intelligence and fluency. They were then asked to make semantic acceptability judgments while completing a Chinese sentence reading task. The behavioral results revealed that the older adults had significantly lower accuracy on measures of semantic and syntactic processing compared to younger adults. Event-related potential (ERP) results showed that during semantic processing, older adults had a significantly reduced amplitude and delayed peak latency of the N400 compared to the younger adults. During syntactic processing, older adults also showed delayed peak latency of the P600 relative to younger adults. Moreover, while P600 amplitude was comparable between the two age groups, larger P600 amplitude was associated with worse performance only in the older adults. Together, the behavioral and ERP data suggest that there is an age-related decline in both semantic and syntactic processing, with a trend toward lower efficiency in syntactic ability.

Keywords: Aging, ERP, P600, syntactic processing, neural effieiciency

Received: 31 May 2017; Accepted: 14 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Pia Knoeferle, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany

Reviewed by:

Carol Madden, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM), France
Ernesto Guerra, Universidad de Chile, Chile  

Copyright: © 2018 Zhu, Hou and Yang. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence:
Dr. Zude Zhu, Jiangsu Normal University, School of Linguistics and Arts, Xuzhou, China, zhuzude@163.com
Prof. Yiming Yang, Jiangsu Normal University, School of Linguistics and Arts, Xuzhou, China, yangym@jsnu.edu.cn