Adult age differences in the depth of processing in recognition memory were examined for three groups with mean ages of 19, 45 and 70 years. Subjects were tested for phonological and semantic false recognitions with a continuous recognition memory procedure using both moderate (4 sec) and slow (8 sec) presentation rates. Both middle-aged and elderly subjects displayed a greater false recognition effect for both rhymes (phonological) and synonyms (semantic) of previously presented items than did young adults. Thus, there appeared to be little, if any, age-related deficit in depth of processing as defined on a sensory-semantic dimension. On the other hand, middle-aged and elderly subjects correctly recognized fewer of the previously presented (i.e., old) items than did the young adults. Age-level differences in retention of old item information were viewed as reflecting differences in the extent of elaboration within a processing domain. Rate of presentation did not affect either processing depth as measured by false recognitions, or memory per se as measured by the recognition of old items.
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