Fact retrieval in younger and older adults: The role of mental models
Psychology and Aging
Using a fan effect paradigm, three experiments tested whether younger and older adults differ in the retrieval of integrated and nonintegrated facts, where integration refers to the development of a mental model. Earlier work by G. A. Radvansky and R. T. Zacks ( 1991 ) had found that as long as facts can be integrated into a single mental model, young adults show no increase in retrieval time or error rates as the size of the subset of related facts increases (i.e., no fan effect). The present
... fect). The present studies show a similar pattern for older adults. By contrast, and in confirmation of our previous findings on age differences and the fan effect (L. D. Gerard, R. T. Zacks, L. Hasher, & G. A. , older adults show an exaggerated fan effect, at least in their error rates, on subsets of related facts not easily integrated into a single mental model. The purpose of the present experiments is to assess how younger and older adults compare in the construction and use of mental models (e.g., Johnson-Laird, 1983 , 1989 . A mental model is a representation of a described situation rather than a representation of a text itself or the propositions conveyed by a text. The structure of a mental model corresponds to the functional relations among entities as they would exist in the world. As such, a mental model can be thought of as a simulation of events in the world, either real or imaginary. The idea of a mental model can be conveyed by considering a study by Garnham (1982) . In that study, people who originally heard the sentence "The hostess bought a mink coat from the furrier" were likely to mistakenly claim that the sentence "The hostess bought a mink coat at the furrier's" was heard before. In contrast, people who originally heard the sentence "The hostess received a telegram from the furrier" were not likely to mistakenly claim that the sentence "The hostess received a telegram at the furrier's" was heard before. The first two sentences potentially describe the same situation, and therefore correspond to a single mental model, whereas the second two sentences do not.