Because sequence learning is integral to cognitive functions across the lifespan, the present study examined the effect of healthy aging on deterministic judgment-based sequence learning.
College-aged, younger-old, and older-old adults completed a judgment-based sequence learning task which required them to learn a full sequence by chaining together single stimulus-response associations in a step-by-step fashion.
Results showed that younger adults outperformed younger-old and older-old adults; older adults were less able to acquire the full sequence and committed significantly more errors during learning. Additionally, higher sequence learning errors was associated with advancing age among older adults, even when controlling for other factors known to contribute to sequence learning abilities. Such impairments were selective to learning sequential information, since adults of all ages performed equivalently on post-learning probe trials, as well as on learning simple stimulus-response associations.
This pattern of age deficits during deterministic sequence learning challenges past reports of age preservation. Though the neural processes underlying learning cannot be determined here, our patterns of age deficits and preservation may reflect different brain regions that are involved in the task phases, adding behavioral evidence to the emerging hypothesis of frontostriatal declines despite spared hippocampal function with age.