Do some elderly adults interpret scalar terms like younger adults?

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This thesis studies the processing of the scalar term some by healthy old and healthy young adults. The scalar term some has two interpretations: a logical interpretation (some, and possibly all) and a pragmatic interpretation (some, but not all). Many studies have shown that the pragmatic interpretation of the scalar term some is cognitively effortful. The goal of the current study is to replicate these findings and additionally examine whether the healthy old adult group, which was characterized by a decreased working memory ability, would make fewer pragmatic interpretations than the young adult group. Participants were presented with ‘underinformative’ sentences containing some that have differed truth values based on the pragmatic and logical interpretations (e.g., Some dogs are mammals). While performing this sentence verification task, participants were also asked to complete a dot task in which they had to recall patterns, which burdened their working memory. The working memory manipulation occurred in three conditions: the no-load condition (participants did not have to recall any patterns), the low-load condition (participants had to recall a simple pattern), and the high-load condition (participants had to recall a complex pattern). The results showed that the old adult group made significantly more logical interpretations than did the young adult group. Moreover, neither age group showed a clear effect of working memory manipulation on the number of pragmatic or logical interpretations. The results of the working memory manipulation are puzzling in light of the existing theories about the processing of scalar terms. The absence of such an effect indicates that the difference in interpretations between the young adults and old adults cannot be explained by the difference in working memory abilities between these groups. This study proposes that a possible effect of age on general (dual) task performance might be an alternative explanation.
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