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Characteristics of noun retrieval in picture descriptions across the adult lifespan

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Background: Our previous research showed an age-related decrease in the frequency of nouns selected for production on a picture description task, as determined by objective frequency counts, subjective ratings of frequency, and cumulative frequency. These findings were interpreted as demonstrating the breadth of vocabulary available to older adults.

Aims: The present study examines whether the recorded decrease in noun frequency reflects lexical aspects of word retrieval or task approach.

Methods & Procedures: A total of 136 healthy participants (age range 20–85) described the Cookie Theft picture. Additional 230 adults (half < 30, half ≥ 60) rated the nouns produced on these descriptions for frequency, concreteness, age-of-acquisition, and relevance to picture.

Outcomes & Results: Age of participants describing the picture was negatively correlated with frequency and relevance, but not with concreteness or age-of-acquisition.

Conclusions: The results suggest that older adults may select infrequent words that are less relevant to the picture because they choose to describe details that are not inherent to the story presented in the picture.

Keywords: Age-of-acquisition; Ageing; Concreteness; Noun frequency; Off-topic speech; Word retrieval

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Education and Psychology,The Open University, Raanana, Israel

Publication date: October 1, 2012


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