Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Stanley H. Cohen.


Older adults often complain of cognitive difficulties, such as the inability to learn new information or recall previously learned information. Previous research shows that many older adults do have difficulties with certain learning tasks. However, not all older adults experience these difficulties. Some recent research has shown that, contrary to popular belief, older adults can learn new information under certain task conditions. The purpose of this investigation was to examine how older adults, compared against younger adults, learn new vocabulary under two different learning task conditions. Each participant engaged in two vocabulary learning tasks: a paired-associate task and a contextual task. Previous research has shown that both working memory and existing vocabulary knowledge are used when learning unfamiliar words. Participants also were given two measures of each individual difference factor (working memory and vocabulary knowledge), as well as an inductive reasoning measure. In confirmation of hypotheses, younger adults had higher scores on the working memory measures and the inductive reasoning task. To the contrary, older adults had higher scores on the measures of existing vocabulary knowledge. Older and younger adults did not significantly differ on scores assigned to definitions given in the contextual task. However, younger adults outperformed older adults in the paired-associate task. In addition, the measures of existing vocabulary knowledge accounted for more variance in the contextual task. Conversely, the working memory measures and the inductive reasoning task accounted for more variance in the paired-associate task. These conclusions are encouraging to those working with older adults. It appears that under certain conditions that focus on older adults' strengths, new information can be learned and cognitive deficits can be overcome.