Familiarization May Minimize Age-Related Declines in Rule-Based Category Learning

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Being able to categorize promotes cognitive economy by reducing the amount of information that an individual needs to remember. This ability is particularly important in older adulthood, when executive functioning abilities are known to decline. Prior research has shown that older adults can learn simple categories quite well but struggle when learning more complex categories which place a demand on executive function resources. The goal of Experiments 1 to 3 was to assess whether familiarizing older adults with complex rule-based or non–rule-based categories prior to beginning a categorization task would minimize age-related categorization deficits. Both rule-based and non–rule-based category learning improved among older adults following pretraining, but the improvements to rule-based learning were more drastic, suggesting that executive functioning plays a heavier role in rule-based category learning. Findings provide a potential solution for improving the category learning abilities of older adults.

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