Age-Related Changes in Imitating Sequences of Observed Movements

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Three experiments investigated the size and sources of age-related changes in visual imitation. In Experiment 1, young and older adults viewed sequences of quasi-random movements and then reproduced from memory what they had seen. As expected, older adults made more errors in imitation than their younger counterparts. However, older adults seemed to supplement their memory by exploiting an abstracted representation (gist) of a sequence. Experiments 2 and 3 apportioned the observed age-related changes in imitation performance among several possible causes. Experiment 2 showed that changes in precision of visual perception and motor control together accounted for only a small fraction of age-related changes in imitation quality; Experiment 3 showed that the bulk of the age-related changes arose from the older participants' reduced ability to accommodate for increases in memory load, likely caused by diminished ability to encode or retain detailed information about movement sequences. Guided by these results, strategies are proposed for enhancing older adults' imitation learning.

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