Are there age-related differences in the ability to learn configural responses?

Rachel Clark, Michael Freedberg, Eliot Hazeltine, Michelle W. Voss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Age is often associated with a decline in cognitive abilities that are important for maintaining functional independence, such as learning new skills. Many forms of motor learning appear to be relatively well preserved with age, while learning tasks that involve associative binding tend to be negatively affected. The current study aimed to determine whether age differences exist on a configural response learning task, which includes aspects of motor learning and associative binding. Young (M = 24 years) and older adults (M = 66.5 years) completed a modified version of a configural learning task. Given the requirement of associative binding in the configural relationships between responses, we predicted older adults would show significantly less learning than young adults. Older adults demonstrated lower performance (slower reaction time and lower accuracy). However, contrary to our prediction, older adults showed similar rates of learning as indexed by a configural learning score compared to young adults. These results suggest that the ability to acquire knowledge incidentally about configural response relationships is largely unaffected by cognitive aging. The configural response learning task provides insight into the task demands that constrain learning abilities in older adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0137260
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 28 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Clark et al.


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