Chapter 12 – Individual, Aging and Gender Differences in Cognition
• Individual differences – stable patterns of performance that differ qualitatively and/or
quantitatively across individuals.
Individual Differences in Cognitions
• Intelligence – postulated by some psychologists to represent the sum total of a person’s
cognitive abilities and resources.
• Hunt stated that “‘intelligence’ is solely a shorthand term for the variation in competence
on cognitive tasks that is statistically associated with personal variables...Intelligence is
used as a collective term for ‘demonstrated individual differences in mental competence.’”
• There are many conceptions of intelligence as viewing it as learning efficiently, capacity to
adapt to the new environment, mental speed, mental energy, or mental organization.
• Many psychologists who study intelligence have looked at stable individual differences
among various cognitive capacities to describe more general differences in people’s
performance on broader intellectual tasks.
• A study by Keating and Bobbitt illustrates this point. They did three experiments with both
high and average mental ability of third, seventh and eleventh graders. They found that
when they controlled for the effects of age, ability difference were still apparent, especially
in more complicated cognitive tasks.
• Keating and Bobbitt believed that both age and ability differences result from the efficiency
with which basic cognitive processes are carried out.
• Many critics have criticized the idea that there is one basic cognitive ability called
intelligence that is accurately measured by IQ tests (Bell Curve).
• Gardner offered what he called “pluralistic” theory of mind. He offered this definition of
intelligence “the ability to solve problems, or to fashion products, that are valued in one or
more cultural or community settings.”
• Gardner proposed the existence of seven distinct human intelligences. The multiple
intelligences are 1) linguistic (lawyer, teacher); 2) logical-mathematical (engineer,
accountant); 3) musical (musician); 4) bodily-kinaesthetic (athlete, actor); 5) spatial
(architect, navigator); 6) interpersonal (counsellor, politician); 7) intrapersonal (novelist,
researcher); 8) naturalist (farmer, botanist); 9) existential (philosopher, theorist).
1 • Gardner believes that we make a distinction between talents and intelligence only so that
we can hold on to the concept that there is only one mental ability
• Multiple intelligences (MI) theory – Gardner’s theory that intelligence can be divided into
distinct types including musical, bodily-kinaesthetic, logical-mathematical, linguistic,
spatial, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences.
• The Bell Curve Hernstein and Murray, 1994 vs. Multiple Intelligences Gardner, 1993
Experts versus Novices
• In general, experts will perceive more distinctions, especially subtle ones, than novices do.
• De Groot and Chase & Simon did work on chess experts and novices to see differences in
cognitive processing. Chase & Simon argued that the chess expert used chess knowledge
to group or ‘chunk’ chess pieces into meaningful configurations; as such they are able to
encode structures, but not random, chess configurations more quickly and accurately.
• An expert chess player could reconstruct the positions of approximately 16 (out of 25)
pieces after only a 5-second glance
• A chess beginner, given the same board and the same exposure, could reconstruct the
positions of only about 5 pieces.
• HOW? Chunking of meaningful information increases memory span.
• Reingold has shown that early perceptual encoding is what differentiates expert form
intermediate chess players, rather than an enhanced memory for chess pieces, or ability to
think ahead to the next move.
• A difference was found in the spatial distributions of their eye fixations: experts produced
more fixations on empty squares than intermediates. They made fewer fixations on each
trial than did the novices, and when they did fixate on actual pieces, these were more likely
to be ones directly relevant to the next move.
• They concluded that experts perceptually encode chess configurations rather than
individual chess pieces.
• They also showed that visual span was larger for experts while they processed structured
but not random chess positions. Experts made greater use of parafoveal processing to
extract information from a larger portion of a chessboard than did intermediates. This
suggests an early perceptual processing advantage is what distinguishes experts from
• Existing evidence suggests that bilingualism affects cognitive processing.
• Bilingual – describes people who are regularly faced with the task of attending to one set of
labels for objects or methods of expression while simultaneously ignoring labels from their
other known language depending on the language in which they are trying to communicate.
• Bialystok has shown that adult and children who are bilingual have advantages on tasks
involving attentional control. Especially when the task requires inhibiting relevant but
misleading perceptual information, or response conflict, bilinguals are much faster.
• They perform similarly when task does not contain misleading cues.
• Incongruent stimulus-response pairs are associated with longer response times than
congruent pairs (the “Simon” effect), and it is argued that smaller Simon effect values
indicate better cognitive control.
• Green proposed a model of cognitive functioning in bilingual individuals in which the
language that is not in current use is suppressed by the same executive functions used
generally to control attention and inhibition.
• Other studies have shown that bilinguals perform poorer than monolinguals on tasks
involving lexical access and recent work suggest that bilingual disadvantage in memory
retrieval of verbal information
• Bilinguals have had massive practice throughout their lives in exercising control
• Ability to attend selectively to relevant information, and ignore competing distracting
information, develops earlier in bilingual than monolingual children Bialystok, 2001.
• Bilinguals have an advantage on tasks involving attentional control
• When the task requires inhibiting salient but misleading perceptual information, or
response conflict, bilinguals are faster and more accurate than monolinguals
• e.g. “Ambiguous Figures Task” and “Simon Task” Bialystok, 2001; Bialystok et al.,
• Bilingual advantage is strong in children, declines to a relatively small effect in older
children and young adults, but then reappears strongly in older adults
• Negative side effect of bilingualism?
3 • perform more poorly than monolinguals on tasks involving lexical access
• lower memory retrieval of verbal information compared to monolinguals
The Effects of Aging on Cognition
Patterns of Preserved and Declining Functions
• Age differences – a possible reason for differences in performance.
• Research has shown that performance on short-term and episodic memory tasks shows a
decline with age.
• Environmental support – external aids, hints, category headings to help seniors structure
their search through memory for the correct response.
• Some memory functions remain intact or increase with age such as names for labels and
objects, vocabulary levels, and general word knowledge.
• Baltes and colleagues concluded that a general decline in the speed of processing of
elementary cognitive operations occurs with age.
• The Baltes’s have argued that older adults can compensate for declines by using selective
optimization and compensations as pianist Arthur Rubinstein did as he aged.
• Preserved functions in old age.
• Semantic Memory - Increases with advancing age.
• Implicit Memory - Relatively stable across adulthood.
• Procedural Memory - BUT resistance to slowing for highly-practiced skills (playing
• Episodic Memory - Greater decline in memory processes that rely on the frontal
lobes. There are many deficits - Encoding deficit, Retrieval deficit, and Source
• Individual differences in the extent of memory change that seniors can expect to
Models of Age-Related Changes in Cognition
• During aging the brain undergoes many changes, including reductions in brain volume
stemming from grey and white matter atrophy, synaptic degeneration that impairs that
4 impairs communication between neurons, and reductions in regional cerebral blood flow to