Age-Related Increases in Verbal Knowledge Are Not Associated With Word Finding Problems in the Cam-CAN Cohort: What You Know Won't Hurt You.

22 Mar 2018

Objective: We tested the claim that age-related increases in knowledge interfere with word retrieval, leading to word finding failures. We did this by relating a measure of crystallized intelligence to tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) states and picture naming accuracy. Method: Participants were from a large (N = 708), cross-sectional (aged 18-88 years), population-based sample from the Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience cohort (Cam-CAN; www.cam-can.com). They completed (a) the Spot-the-Word Test (STW), a measure of crystallized intelligence in which participants circled the real word in word/nonword pairs, (b) a TOT-inducing task, and (c) a picture naming task. Results: Age and STW independently predicted TOTs, with higher TOTs for older adults and for participants with lower STW scores. Tests of a moderator model examining interactions between STW and age indicated that STW was a significant negative predictor of TOTs in younger adults, but with increasing age, the effect size gradually approached zero. Results using picture naming accuracy replicated these findings. Discussion: These results do not support the hypothesis that lifelong knowledge acquisition leads to interference that causes an age-related increase in TOTs. Instead, crystallized intelligence supports successful word retrieval, although this relationship weakens across adulthood.