Concomitant Eyeblink and Heart Rate Classical Conditioning in Young, Middle-Aged, and Elderly Human Subjects

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Pavlovian heart rate (HR) and eyeblink (EB) conditioning were assessed in 4 groups of Ss who differed in age: young = 19–33 years, young middle-aged = 35–48 years, old middle-aged = 50–63 years, and old = 66–78 years. A 100-ms corneal airpuff was the unconditioned stimulus and a 600-ms tone was the conditioned stimulus. A nonassociative control group received explicitly unpaired tone and airpuff presentations. All Ss were studied for 2 100-trial sessions separated by approximately 7 days. An impairment in acquisition of both the EB and HR responses occurred in the old and middle-age Ss, but all age groups showed significantly greater conditioning than did the control group. Slight increases in performance resulted from a 2nd session of training. These findings suggest an age-related impairment in a general associative process.

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