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Dóra Juhász: Age- Related Differences in Verbal Fluency: The Role of Automatic and Controlled Processes

Verbal ability and executive functions are very important factors in cognitive functioning and communication of children and adults in everyday situations. The letter fluency, semantic fluency and action fluency tasks have been widely used to examine verbal fluency capacity, which could depend on age, education, vocabulary, the strategic search and retrieval of verbal knowledge. In these tasks participants have to produce as many words as they can within a 60-s period. Previous studies have shown that at the beginning of the fluency tasks participants produce more words without slow strategic search (automatic process), than in later period (controlled process). Automatic processes have been shown to work better in childhood than in adulthood, so it may be hypothesized that children produce more words in the first part of the fluency task than in the later parts. In contrast, young and older adults might show similar performance in the first and later parts of the task. Importantly, because of the steady development of the underlying neurocognitive networks, it is expected that overall children produce less words than adults, and there is a decline in older persons. The aim of the present study was to investigate the age- related changes in a 60-s long verbal letter, semantic and action fluency tasks across ten aged groups (5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-13, 14-15, 16-17, 18-29, 30-44, 45-60, 61-85 years). We analysed differences in performance across 15-s and 45-s phases in these ten age groups. The findings suggest significantly poorer performance of children and older adults compared to younger adults on all three fluency tasks both in 15-s and 45-s phases. In all three fluency tasks participants produces more words in 15-s phase than in 45-s phase, which suggest similar reliance on automatic and control processes across age groups in these tasks. The temporal analysis of verbal fluency tasks can be used in future studies focusing of special populations (e.g., children with special needs or learning difficulties).

MAGYAR PEDAGÓGIA 117. Number 2. 153-169. (2017)

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Magyar Tudományos Akadémia