北京第二外国语学院学报, 2021, 43(3): 116-133 doi: 10.12002/j.bisu.341

学术前沿与动态

老年人语篇阅读推理认知老化研究:回顾与展望

范琳,1, 孙莉,2, 王震,3

1.北京外国语大学人工智能与人类语言重点实验室 100089

2.青岛科技大学外国语学院 266061

3.北京外国语大学外国语言研究所 100089

Review and Prospect of the Studies of Cognitive Aging on Senior Peoples’ Inferential Processing When Reading Texts

Fan Lin,1, Sun Li,2, Wang Zhen,3

1. Artificial Intelligence and Human Languages Lab, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Beijing 100089, China

2. School of Foreign Languages, Qingdao University of Science and Technology, Qingdao 266061, China

3. Research Institute of Foreign Languages, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Beijing 100089, China

责任编辑: 栗娜

收稿日期: 2019-01-18  

基金资助: 国家社会科学基金项目“老年人阅读推理的认知老化机制研究”(18BYY088)

Received: 2019-01-18  

作者简介 About authors

范琳,北京外国语大学人工智能与人类语言重点实验室教授,博士生导师,100089,研究方向:心理语言学、神经语言学。电子邮箱: fanlin@bfsu.edu.cn

孙莉,博士,青岛科技大学外国语学院,266061,研究方向:心理语言学、二语习得。电子邮箱: kelly9647@163.com

王震,北京外国语大学外国语言研究所,100089,研究方向:心理语言学。电子邮箱: wangzhenbfs@163.com

摘要

近年来,随着全球人口老龄化问题日趋严重,语言认知老化研究已经成为研究者关注的热点。对老年人语言老化机制和神经基础的研究既可以揭示人类的语言发展过程和认知功能变化,还能够为语言认知功能老化的干预训练提供重要的支持。阅读理解是一个需要高级认知能力参与的复杂过程,推理产出对语篇意义理解起着至关重要的作用,为了建构连贯的语篇表征,读者需要进行推理加工。本文首先阐述了认知老化领域相关的理论模型和假说,回顾了老年人语篇阅读推理认知老化方面代表性的实证研究,并在此基础上分析了目前研究中存在的问题和争议,对未来的研究方向进行了展望,以期为研究者进行更为深入的相关研究提供借鉴,从而进一步丰富这一领域的研究内容。

关键词: 语篇阅读; 推理; 认知老化; 老年人; 老龄化

Abstract

Cognitive aging has become a hot topic among language processing researchers because the aging of the world’s population has become an increasingly serious issue in recent years. Research on the cognitive mechanisms and neural basis of aging in language can not only reveal the processes of language development and cognitive functions in human beings, but can also contribute considerably to the cognitive intervention for age-related decline in language ability. Reading comprehension is a complex process that involves high cognitive ability, and is essential for successful functioning in society. As readers often need to draw inferences to construct coherent mental representations of a text, the generation of inferences is crucial for the successful comprehension of texts for both young and older people. This paper elaborates on the theoretical models and hypotheses of cognitive aging, and reviews the representative empirical studies of the effect of cognitive aging on inferential processing during discourse reading. Furthermore, this paper discusses the unresolved problems and controversies in this field, and presents some suggestions for future directions. It is hoped that this review will offer valuable suggestions for future in-depth research for researchers, and will enrich the research on senior people’s inference processing during text comprehension.

Keywords: text comprehension; inference; cognitive aging; senior people; aging

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引用本文

范琳, 孙莉, 王震. 老年人语篇阅读推理认知老化研究:回顾与展望. 北京第二外国语学院学报, 2021, 43(3): 116-133. DOI:10.12002/j.bisu.341

Fan Lin, Sun Li, Wang Zhen. Review and Prospect of the Studies of Cognitive Aging on Senior Peoples’ Inferential Processing When Reading Texts. Journal of Beijing InternaTional Studies University, 2021, 43(3): 116-133. DOI:10.12002/j.bisu.341

引言

随着人口老龄化问题日趋严重,语言蚀失和老化机制研究已经成为学界关注的焦点。对语言老化的研究是人类认识自身语言发展和大脑认知变化等问题的重要环节(黄立鹤,2015);对老年人语言蚀失及老化的研究可以揭示人类自身语言发展和认知功能变化,还能够为语言认知功能老化的干预训练提供有重要价值的支持。认知老化(cognitive aging)可分为正常老化和病理性老化两种,前者也称“健康老化”,后者则意味着出现了影响中枢神经系统的疾病或致病条件(Daffner,2010;程凯文等,2017)。随着年龄的增长,人的神经基质(neural substrate)会发生变化,加工速度、工作记忆、注意广度、抑制能力等认知资源均有可能有所下降(Wingfield & Grossman,2006)。阅读是人类最高级的认知加工活动之一,是人类获取信息的重要来源;对于老年人而言,阅读更是其获取信息、维持甚至促进智力发展的重要途径。随着个体生理结构及机能的老化,老年人的语言认知能力必然会出现老化趋势,阅读推理加工能力也会发生相应的变化。阅读理解在很大程度上取决于推理的产生,推理加工被称为“理解过程的核心”(Schank,1976:168),因此,在老龄化问题越来越严重的当今社会,研究老年人的语篇阅读推理加工具有重要的意义。本文将首先阐述认知老化领域相关的理论模型及假说,进而回顾老年人语篇阅读推理过程的认知老化实证研究,并对未来的研究方向进行展望。

一、认知老化模型及假说

自20世纪70年代以来,国内外研究者对认知老化及其神经基础展开了大量研究,提出了一系列理论模型。随着脑成像技术——特别是功能核磁共振成像(functional Magnetic Resonance Image,fMRI)——在认知老化神经机制研究领域中的广泛应用,研究者取得了一系列的研究成果,并在此基础上提出了一些重要的认知老化模型,包括多因素影响整合模型、老年人两半脑非对称性减弱(Hemispheric Asymmetry Reduction in Older Adults,HAROLD)模型、脑激活区由后向前转移(Posterior-anterior Shifting in Aging,PASA)模型等。研究者进而提出了一些理论及假说来解释这些模型,如补偿理论(Compensation Theory)、去分化理论(Dedifferentiation Theory)和补偿性神经回路利用假说(Compensation-related Utilization of Neural Circuits Hypothesis,CRUNCH)。

1.认知老化多因素影响整合模型

早期认知老化研究多采用路径分析和结构方程建模的方法分析数据,建构了认知老化受多因素影响的认知老化模型。Salthouse(1985)提出加工速度理论(Processing Speed Theory,PST),认为成年人的认知操作速度会随着年龄增长而减慢,是液体认知(fluid cognition)老化的主要原因。之后,Salthouse(1993)发现速度是年龄对记忆和认知能力产生负影响的重要中介因子,他进而针对记忆老化建立了结构模型,认为记忆除了主要受到以知觉速度(perceptual speed)为中介的来自年龄的负影响外,还直接受年龄的影响。另外,Lindenberger et al.(1993)提出认知老化结构模型,认为认知速度直接受年龄和教育程度两个因素负向和正向的双重影响,而一般认知能力(如知识、推理能力、记忆、流利度等)的负向年龄差异(negative age differences)主要受速度这一中介因子的调节,其中知识还受到教育水平的影响。研究者基于各因素间的关系,建构的主要认知老化模型有平行模型、层次模型和共因模型(蒋达,2008:383)。平行模型认为几个中介变量在年龄和认知功能中起着平行作用(图1);层次模型强调各因素在认知老化过程中起着层次性作用(图2);共因模型强调多个因子共同发生作用(图3),该模型受到研究者的普遍认可(蒋达,2008)。

图1

图1   平行模型


图2

图2   层次模型


图3

图3   共因模型


2.HAROLD模型

Cabeza(2002)提出了HAROLD模型。在分析了多个基于脑成像技术的相关研究后,他发现年轻人在进行情节记忆检索、情节编码/语义检索、工作记忆、感知和抑制控制等认知加工任务时,大脑的前额叶皮质(prefrontal cortex,PFC)活动呈现出明显的单侧化优势(即非对称性),而老年人在完成同样的任务时,大脑的PFC活动却出现明显的双侧化现象(即不对称性减弱)。该模型主张老化导致在认知操作过程中PFC活动单侧化的减少(Cabeza,2002),表明老年人在完成诸多认知加工任务时,都会出现两半脑功能对称性增强的现象,左右半球脑区均有不同程度的激活,以弥补因老化而导致的PFC激活不足。对这种非对称性减弱的原因有两种解释:一种是心因观(psychogenic view)的解释,认为这种非对称性减弱是由认知策略的改变引起的;另一种神经源性观(neurogenic view)的解释则认为这种改变是由神经基质的变化(如不同脑区的神经功能、神经联结或二者共同的变化)引起的。

自HAROLD模型提出之后,研究者们针对该模型开展了大量验证研究。支持该模型的证据主要来自有关记忆、抑制、感知、脑神经结构以及语言认知等方面的研究,这些研究发现在进行上述活动时,老年人的大脑呈现出非对称性减弱,即双侧激活没有明显的差异(如Maguire & Frith,2003;Grady,2000)。但是同时也有一些研究并不支持该模型(如Rajah & D'Esposito,2005;唐丹,2007),他们发现HAROLD现象只在老年人进行部分任务时出现,其大脑补偿也是有限的,不可能在进行所有任务时都如此。

3.PASA模型

Grady et al.(1994)发现在完成人脸匹配和位置匹配任务时,虽然老年人和年轻人均会相应激活枕颞区和枕顶区的局部血流(regional Cerebral Blood Flow,rCBF),但是年轻人呈现出更多的纹前皮质(prestriate cortex)激活,而老年人的枕颞皮质rCBF激活量更大,且PFC、顶叶下回(inferior parietal cortex,IPC)和内侧顶叶皮质(medial parietal cortex,MPC)有更多激活。基于这一研究结果,他们提出了PASA模型。该模型认为,老化会导致激活脑区的重新组织,具体表现为由枕—颞区向前额叶的转移,即如果执行任务的低级脑区因老化而功能衰退,大脑就会通过募集更多的皮层网络(cortical networks)来加以弥补(Grady et al.,1994),也就是说,老年人会通过增强PFC与顶叶活动来补偿空间视觉(spatial vision)加工过程中枕叶活动的减弱。此后,研究者采用正电子成像术(Positron Emission Tomography,PET)和 fMRI技术,在一系列研究认知任务加工过程(包括记忆、感知和注意等)的实验中都验证了PASA 模式(如Grady,2000)。

4.解释HAROLD和PASA两个模型的理论及假说

HAROLD和PASA均为基于脑成像技术的模型,研究者通常用补偿理论、去分化理论和补偿性神经回路利用假说等对其进行解释。

首先,在补偿理论方面,Cabeza et al.(1997)提出HAROLD模型的补偿观,认为老年人大脑两侧对称性的增加有助于抵消与年龄相关的神经认知功能受损。来自大脑活动和认知操作、脑损伤后大脑功能恢复等方面的证据均为HAROLD模型的补偿观提供了支持(Cabeza,2002)。老年人的大脑双侧激活和两半脑的参与有助于其提升认知操作和脑损伤后功能的恢复。PASA模型的补偿观则认为老年人大脑PFC活动的增强补偿了枕叶活动的降低(Davis et al.,2008),这说明前部脑区的激活能够抵消后部脑区加工的不足,以促使老年人成功地进行认知操作活动。可见,HAROLD 模型反映了增强对侧脑区的募集以代偿老化而引起的认知功能衰退,而PASA模型则反映了募集前部脑区来补偿后部脑区的感知加工缺损。

其次,去分化理论认为,与年龄相关的脑区偏侧化减弱仅仅是老化的副产品,并没有任何特殊功能,这隐含在与年龄相关的认知能力的去分化假说中(Li & Lindenberger,1999;Cabeza,2002)。该假说认为儿童在成长过程中,其认知能力会发生由无定形到特异的演变,而在老化过程中,老年人认知能力的特异性会降低甚至消失,不同认知功能需要类似的执行或组织资源(Cabeza,2002:91)。不同认知功能测量间的关系以及认知与感觉功能测量间的关系会随着老化而增强,这是支持去分化理论的主要证据(Cabeza,2002)。

最后,补偿性神经回路利用假说认为,认知加工低效会促使老化的大脑募集更多神经资源以达到和年轻人大脑同等的计算输出(Reuter-Lorenz & Cappell,2008)。在进行低认知负荷任务加工时,老年人将过度激活其双侧PFC,而年轻人则会表现出更多的焦点激活(focal activation);但当认知负荷增大时,年轻人将转变为双侧激活模式,老年人则会出现激活不足、行为表现变差的情况(Reuter-Lorenz & Cappell,2008)。相关研究发现,PFC的过度募集现象主要发生在表现较差的老年人进行认知加工任务的过程中(如Duverne et al.,2009),这表明HAROLD模型和PASA模型均可在一定程度上为大脑的老化活动提供解释。

二、阅读推理加工过程的认知老化实验研究

学界对老年人语言认知老化的研究多在语言产出和语言理解两个层面上进行,本文关注的老年人阅读推理加工认知老化研究属于语言理解层面的研究。笔者将从词汇识别、句子加工和语篇加工3个方面对语言理解层面的认知老化研究进行简要述评。首先,研究者分别考察了视觉和听觉词汇识别加工过程的老化效应。视觉词汇加工研究发现,较之年轻人,老年人对单个词汇注视(fixation)点更多,注视时间也更长,且更倾向于采用冒险性策略对相关信息加以预测(王丽红等,2012;Zang et al.,2016);听觉词汇识别研究则发现老年人的这一加工过程受到认知老化和听觉敏感度下降的双重影响(Stewart & Wingfield,2009)。其次,句子加工方面的研究表明,年轻人和老年人对句法较简单的主语关系从句进行加工时不存在显著差异,但在加工句法结构相对复杂的宾语关系从句时,老年人的反应时显著增加,正确率也较低(Caplan & Waters,2005);后续研究也进一步证实了老年人对复杂句式的加工速度确实较慢,且更易犯错(Caplan et al.,2011)。采用事件相关电位(Event-related Potentials,ERP)技术的研究还发现,对于老年受试,句法较为简单的句子诱发的P600波幅(amplitude)较小,潜伏期较长,且两半脑不对称性较弱(Kemmer et al.,2004)。句法歧义消解加工研究也同样证实了认知老化效应的存在(DeDe,2014;Payne et al.,2014)。再次,在语篇加工方面,以往研究发现虽然词汇识别、句法分析、语义整合等自动化加工任务受老化影响不明显,但语篇信息抑制(inhibition)、刷新(update)、监控(monitor)等非自动化加工任务受到的影响却比较大(Harley et al.,2011)。研究者还发现,老年人在语篇语境信息的利用与整合(Payne et al.,2012)以及文本脚本建构(Gernsbacher,1990)方面均存在明显的认知老化效应。

早在20世纪90年代,语言理解层面的语篇阅读推理加工研究就已成为国际心理学、心理语言学和认知科学等研究领域关注的热点。到目前为止,国内外相关研究主要以年轻受试为研究对象,针对推理加工的实时性、语篇推理加工的影响因素、不同类型推理加工过程的异同、推理加工神经机制等问题进行了大量研究,取得了诸多重要研究成果。其中,《语篇推理加工》(Inferences in Text Processing)(Rickheit & Strohner,1985)、《推理与语篇理解》(Inferences and Text Comprehension)(Graesser & Bower,1990)、《心理语言学手册》(Handbook of Psycholinguistics)(Traxler & Gernsbacher,2006)、《大脑高级语言加工:推理与理解》(Higher Level Language Processes in the BrainInference and Comprehension Processes)(Schmalhofer & Perfetti,2007)、《语篇理解研究》(鲁忠义、彭聃龄,2003)、《二语语篇阅读推理的心理学研究》(范琳等,2011)等代表性著作汇集了语篇阅读推理研究领域的主要成果。然而,由于年龄增长,老年人的认知功能(如工作记忆容量、抑制/监控能力等)趋于老化,其阅读策略(Rayner et al.,2006;Choi et al.,2017)、知觉广度(Rayner et al.,2009;李琳,2017)可能有别于年轻人,阅读推理加工过程也可能会与年轻人存在差异。因此,开展针对老年人语篇阅读及推理加工的研究,揭示其认知老化机制就显得十分必要。虽然对老年人语篇推理实验的研究在深度和广度方面还远不及对年轻人阅读推理加工的研究,但国内外研究者在这一领域也已经进行了积极探索,并取得了一些进展。基于以往相关研究结果,影响老年人阅读推理的因素可以分为语篇因素和读者因素两类,前者主要包括语篇复杂度、语篇类型、语境制约度(contextual constraints)等,后者则主要包括年龄、工作记忆、抑制能力、提取障碍、教育水平和双语经验(bilingual experience)等。笔者将从语篇因素和读者因素两方面对老年人阅读及阅读推理过程的认知老化实验研究加以回顾。

1.语篇因素

语篇复杂度是影响老年人语篇阅读的一个重要因素。研究表明,年轻人和老年人对结构相对简单的叙事语篇的加工不存在差异,但对于较为复杂的说明文语篇的加工,年轻人在阅读速度和理解正确率方面均明显优于老年人(De Beni et al.,2007)。这主要是因为年龄老化引起加工容量下降,使老年人可以用于语篇阅读和结构建构的认知资源数量和质量降低(Thornton & Light,2006),其加工复杂语篇的能力也会受损。然而,目前有关语篇复杂度及语篇类型对推理加工影响的实验研究还不多见,未来可以在这方面进行更多相关研究。

语境为读者提供的可利用信息是语篇推理加工的一个重要影响因素,因此,许多研究还考察了语境制约度对语篇理解加工的影响。例如,Stine-Morrow et al.(1999)发现语境信息对年轻人和老年人词汇识别有着同样的促进作用;Madden(1998)发现,较之年轻人,老年人对于上下文的语境信息更为敏感,当输入的信息速度加快或加工负荷过重时尤为如此;Federmeier & Kutas(2005)采用ERP技术考察了老年人阅读理解加工的特点,发现老年人在阅读高语境支持度的语篇时利用语境信息进行语义加工的能力较弱,但在低语境支持度条件下,老年和年轻受试出现的N400效应是类似的。可以看出,在语境因素对老年人阅读理解的影响方面,研究者尚未取得一致的结论。目前,专门针对语境因素对老年人语篇阅读推理加工影响的研究也并不多见。

2.读者因素

影响老年人阅读推理的读者因素较多,我们主要回顾针对年龄、工作记忆、抑制能力、提取障碍、教育水平和双语经验等因素对老年人阅读推理影响的研究。

(1)年龄因素

年龄因素对推理加工影响的研究主要分为两类。第一类研究考察了老年人与年轻人产出的推理类型之间的异同。其中一些研究发现老年人易产出精细推理(elaborative inferences)(如Radvansky & Dijkstra,2007;McGinnis,2009等),但也有另一些研究发现老年人并未进行精细推理(如Noh & Stine-Morrow,2009等)。此外,还有研究发现老年人易产出整体推理(global inferences),产出的推理类型较年轻人少,在语篇加工过程中也倾向于过度抽象化(over-abstraction)(如Cohen,1979;Zacks & Hasher,1988等)。在将老年人与年轻人阅读推理的表现进行对比时,McGinnis(2009)还发现尽管前者的阅读理解水平有所下降,但他们依然具有推理加工能力,其整体推理和精细推理的分数甚至高于年轻人;但McKoon & Ratcliff(2013)的研究却表明老年和年轻受试在语篇阅读过程中产出的整体推理和预期推理不存在显著差异。Valencia-Laver & Light(2000)还采用实时反应时方法,考察了年轻人和老年人的因果推理和预期推理加工,发现两组受试均能激活这两种推理,但老年人不能保持预期推理的信息,也无法将这些信息整合至语篇表征或用于建构情境模型。

有关年龄因素的第二类研究则考察了不同年龄段老年人阅读推理的老化机制。研究者或发现阅读推理能力随着年龄的老化而衰退(Cohen,1979/1981),或发现推理能力没有变化(如Light et al.,1991)。以整体推理的产出为例,Williams et al.(2012)发现青—老年人(62-69岁)、中—老年人(70-76岁)以及老—老年人(77-94岁)在整体推理产出方面存在显著差异;Silagi et al.(2014)也考察了3组不同年龄段受试(18-39岁,40-59岁,60-79岁)的阅读推理能力,结果发现老年组的推理总得分明显低于其他两组,他们认为这可能是由老年读者注意功能和执行控制(executive control)能力受损所致。然而,Ulatowska et al.(1998)的研究表明各年龄段老年人的整体推理能力并不存在显著差异。目前这方面的研究还没有取得一致的结论,这可能是因为不同研究采用的实验方法与实验材料不同,从而有可能导致研究结果不尽一致。

(2)工作记忆

年龄的增长会导致工作记忆容量降低,从而影响老年人的阅读推理加工。这方面的研究大多考察的是工作记忆的存储和加工对老年人阅读理解及推理加工的影响。研究发现,认知老化对信息加工过程(如Gick et al.,1988等)和存储容量(如Babcock & Salthouse,1990等)产生了负面影响;有关语篇细节记忆任务的研究发现年龄增大会导致该方面能力下降(如Verhaeghen et al.,1993等);还有研究发现老年人对基于文本信息的记忆较差,但能较好地保持基于场景模型的信息(如Radvansky et al.,2001等)。在众多研究中,值得注意的是Wright & Newhoff(2002)综合考察了抑制能力和工作记忆容量两个因素对老年人推理加工能力的影响,他们采用跨通道启动模式,实验材料以听力形式呈现,而非传统研究使用的书面语言形式,结果表明工作记忆与推理加工能力之间呈显著相关关系。

(3)抑制能力

抑制能力也会对老年人的阅读推理加工产生影响。抑制能力是指个体在完成当前任务的过程中有意识地对无关信息进行控制的能力(Hasher & Zacks,1988)。抑制衰退理论认为老年人不能有效地抑制无关信息或从工作记忆中及时删除无关信息,加工效率受到影响,从而导致认知能力下降。虽然有一些研究证实了老年人抑制功能的减弱(如Hamm & Hasher,1992等),但Wright & Newhoff(2002)却发现老年受试能够有效抑制初始产出的推理,并进行推理修正(inferential revision)。不过需要说明的是,Wright & Newhoff(2002)的研究中语言的呈现方式为口头语言,采用的刺激材料只有两个句子,并没有包含多个句子或段落的语篇,因此初始的推理不会在后来的理解过程中被大量激活,造成的干扰相对较小。

(4)提取障碍

提取障碍(retrieval deficit)也是影响老年人阅读推理加工的一个重要因素。代表性研究为McGinnis & Zelinski(2003),他们采用有声思维的方法对比了年轻人(18-37岁)和两组老年人(65-75岁、76-87岁)的推理加工过程,重点关注不同年龄段老年人推理加工及提取障碍的情况,其研究结果不支持提取障碍是影响老年人推理出现过度概括化的观点,支持抽象不足假设(Abstraction-Deficit Hypothesis),即认为语篇推理方面的年龄差异是由于老年人过多关注文章的总体观点,同时不擅长提取那些有助于理解具体语义内容的概念层面的意义所致。

(5)教育水平和双语经验

除了以上这些因素外,教育水平、双语经验等因素也可能会对老年人的阅读推理产生影响。例如,高悦等(2011)考察了教育水平对认知老化的影响,发现教育水平在获取和应用新知识方面的作用并不显著,其在认知老化中的作用可能更多地表现为对固有认知功能的保护。此外,研究者还开展了双语经验对认知老化影响的研究,相关的研究发现可作为理解寿命认知(lifespan cognition)的透镜(Sullivan & Bialystok,2017)。许多研究表明,双语经验能促进抑制加工能力的发展,双语或多语学习者在老化过程中有着不同于单语者的特征(如Martin-Rhee & Bialystok,2008等)。Rossi & Diaz(2016)考察了年龄老化和双语经验对语言加工的影响,阐述了双语者在语言产出和理解过程中表现均优于单语者的原因,认为双语者在语言加工中需要不停地激活两种语言,抑制其中的某一种语言,这使他们具有较好的抑制功能,从而在进入老年阶段后不会像单语者那样出现抑制不足的现象;同时,在语言加工过程中,双语者会更多地激活背外侧前额皮质(dorsolateral prefrontal cortex,DLPFC) 、前扣带回(anterior cingulate cortex,ACC)和基底神经节(basal ganglia,BG)。Rossi & Diaz(2016)认为,由于双语者长期监控和使用两种语言,大脑在功能和结构上都发生了变化,因此其执行控制功能得以增强。双语者大脑功能和结构的这些变化可能会影响其老年时期的推理加工能力,但目前尚没有双语经验对老年人阅读推理加工影响方面的研究,这也是学界未来可以努力的一个方向。

三、思考与展望

通过以上文献梳理可知,学界虽然已经在老年人阅读推理加工方面取得了一些重要成果,但仍有很多问题有待解决。目前关于老年人认知老化、语言认知老化以及老年人语篇阅读推理的理论研究有待进一步深入,得到普遍认可的老年人HAROLD现象也并非绝对存在。认知老化是一个复杂的行为过程,受到多种因素的影响,并不是单一因素作用的结果,对认知老化现象的解释也不是某一个模型就能完成的。本节我们将对该领域未来的研究方向进行展望。

第一,研究内容可以更加丰富。现有研究大多关注老年人阅读中的整体推理、精细推理等类型,较少涉及其他类型的推理;对影响老年人阅读推理加工的语篇因素考察也较少,如尚未考察老年人在阅读不同类型文体语篇时推理加工的异同等;读者影响因素的研究也有待拓展和深化,如需要考察双语经验、执行控制能力、认知储备(cognitive reserve)等这些重要的读者因素对老年人阅读推理加工的影响。目前,大多数研究均考察某单一因素对老年人语篇推理加工的影响,未来的研究可综合考察读者因素和语篇因素的影响,以期更好地揭示老年人的阅读推理加工机制以及这些因素间的相互关系和相互作用。

第二,未来可以采用更具生态效度(ecological validity)的研究方法。现有研究多采用延时方法,无法真正揭示老年人阅读推理加工机制。虽然已有少量研究采用了实时反应时方法,但采用眼动和ERP技术考察老年读者阅读推理加工认知和神经机制的研究仍然较少。这两种技术能够实时记录读者阅读过程的眼动轨迹和脑诱发电位,具有较高的生态效度和时间分辨率,已经被广泛应用于阅读理解加工过程研究。未来在老年人阅读推理加工机制研究领域可以更多地利用这些实时方法,以更好地揭示老年人语言加工和认知功能障碍的特点和规律。目前采用fMRI技术的研究对脑激活的测量标准也略有不同,有的研究采用激活面积的大小,有的研究采用激活强度大小,但是这两种测量结果都可能会随着加工任务的不同而变化,并不一定呈现统一的模式,故未来采用fMRI技术的老年人阅读推理加工研究应当对脑激活的测量标准进行统一,以便更好地对比研究结果。

第三,开展老年人阅读推理干预训练研究。现有研究考察的多是阅读理解及推理认知老化加工机制,但在如何进行干预训练以延缓认知与语言老化方面缺乏充分的探讨。已经有研究表明,加强对老年人的认知训练,如认知重构(cognitive restructuring)、学习新知识和双语训练等,可以改善其大脑神经存活度(如Zimerman et al.,2012;Wessel et al.,2015),并对其日常生活能力产生持续的积极影响(Rebok et al.,2014)。另外,双语可以通过改善额叶纹状体(frontostriatal)和额顶叶(frontoparietal)脑区涉及的执行控制功能而推迟阿尔兹海默症(Alzheimer's Disease,AD)症状的发生(Gold,2017)。双语经验与老年人语言加工关系的实验研究发现,对年轻人或老年人进行双语训练,可以改善其认知灵活性;在两种语言之间进行语码转换,可以增加老年人语言加工前的预控制能力。目前在双语经验对阅读推理影响的研究中,双语者神经结构、功能与认知变化之间关系的研究还未充分开展,为了揭示老年人阅读推理加工过程及验证其神经结构的可塑性,今后可着重进行此类研究,以期发现能有效延缓或部分遏制其功能衰退的可行方法。

第四,与其他学科进行结合,拓展交叉学科研究。例如,在未来的研究中,可以将语言研究与临床医学相结合。老年人,尤其是75岁以上的老年人,在阅读理解中如果出现语义模糊增加和具体细节记忆减少的现象,可能意味着他们已经处于阿尔兹海默症的潜伏期,应引起足够重视。将语言认知研究与临床医学相结合,基于老年人在阅读理解中产生的这些问题,可以判断出其是否处于阿尔兹海默症潜伏期,并及时对有需要的老人进行语言功能训练。如果能够尽早地对老年认知障碍和语言老化进行有效干预,大脑衰老的进程便有望得以延缓,因此,这类研究具有重要意义。

结语

本文对认知老化理论和老年人语篇阅读推理实证研究进行了系统的梳理,并指出了该领域研究中存在的问题和未来的研究方向。可以看出,该领域研究已取得很多成果,并提出了一些颇具影响力的理论模型和假说,但仍有许多问题亟待解决。语言认知老化是否具有领域普遍性,阅读推理认知老化是一个怎样的发展过程,是否存在老化的“关键期”,如何延缓这一老化过程等,这些问题均有待进一步探究。今后可扩展研究内容,深化对老年人阅读推理老化机制的认识,为预防和缓解老年人认知障碍疾病提供更具价值的指导与启示。

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There are a number of age-related structural and physiological changes in the brain that could have implications for cognitive function in the elderly. The impact of these age-related changes in the brain on cognition has been studied using neuroimaging to examine brain activity during tasks of memory, perception and attention, and determine how this activity differs between young and older individuals. It has often been found that older individuals utilize different areas of the brain than do young subjects when carrying out the same cognitive task. This has led some researchers to suggest that older persons utilize different functional brain networks, perhaps to compensate for reductions of efficiency in task-related brain areas. However, data collected to date on this issue are still limited, so although the evidence is intriguing, the definitive interpretation of these findings must await further experiments.

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Age differences in inference availability and memory were investigated using a speeded decision procedure and cued recall. Younger and older adults read passages that directly suggested either a target inference or an incorrect, competing inference before finally supporting the target inference. At critical points in a passage, subjects judged whether each of a series of words, including either the target or competing inference, was consistent with their current interpretation. Although both groups agreed on the final target inference, younger and older adults showed different patterns of inference availability and revision. Older adults showed broader and more sustained activation of alternative interpretations and also showed lower levels of inference recall. These findings are interpretable by a framework that proposes age-related breakdowns in inhibitory mechanisms that control the contents of working memory (Hasher & Zacks, 1988).

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To assess age-related changes in simple syntactic processing with normal aging, event-related brain potentials (ERPs) elicited by grammatical number violations as individuals read sentences for comprehension were analyzed. Violations were found to elicit a P600 of equal amplitude and latency regardless of an individual's age. Instead, advancing age was associated with a change in the scalp distribution of the P600 effect, being less asymmetric and more frontal (though still with a parietal maximum) in older than younger adults. Our results thus show that the brain's response to simple syntactic violations, unlike those reported for simple binary categorizations and simple semantic violations, is neither slowed nor diminished in amplitude by age. At the same time, the brain's processing of these grammatical number violations did engage at least somewhat different brain regions as a function of age, suggesting a qualitative change rather than any simple quantitative change in speed of processing.

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Instantiation of general terms in discourse requires inference from general world knowledge and use of linguistic context to particularize meaning. According to the semantic deficit hypothesis, older adults should be less likely than young adults to generate or to store such inferences. In Experiments 1 and 2 an indirect measure, relatedness judgment, was used to assess immediate comprehension and memory for inferences. In Experiment 3 a direct measure, cued recall, was used to tap memory for inferences. No age differences in immediate or delayed memory were observed in Experiments 1 or 2. In Experiment 3 older adults recalled fewer sentences, but there was no evidence for a specific decrement in storage of inferential material. Older adults are not impaired in ability to draw inferences based on general world knowledge, nor are they more likely than young adults to encode linguistic information in a general, stereotypic fashion.

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Past research suggests that age differences in measures of cognitive speed contribute to differences in intellectual functioning between young and old adults. To investigate whether speed also predicts age-related differences in intellectual performance beyond age 70 years, tests indicating 5 intellectual abilities--speed, reasoning, memory, knowledge, and fluency--were administered to a close-to-representative, age-stratified sample of old and very old adults. Age trends of all 5 abilities were well described by a negative linear function. The speed-mediated effect of age fully explained the relationship between age and both the common and the specific variance of the other 4 abilities. Results offer strong support for the speed hypothesis of old age cognitive decline but need to be qualified by further research on the reasons underlying age differences in measures of speed.

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Previous research suggests that older adults derive interpretations of unfamiliar words that are less precise than those of young adults (D. McGinnis & E. M. Zelinski, 2000). Thirty-one adults aged 18-37, 27 aged 65-74, and 28 aged 75-87 read passages containing unfamiliar words (1 per passage) and were asked to think aloud during reading. After reading each passage, participants selected meaning-relevant cues and rated the quality of 4 definition options. Compared with the 2 younger groups, the oldest group rated thematic and irrelevant definitions significantly higher, and their think-aloud protocols included more generalized inferences. Results pertaining to cue selection were not significant. Taken together, these results suggest that age differences in meaning derivation may be related to inferential processing that is overgeneralized, providing support for the abstraction-deficit hypothesis.

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In the domain of discourse processing, it has been claimed that older adults (60-90-year-olds) are less likely to encode and remember some kinds of information from texts than young adults. The experiment described here shows that they do make a particular kind of inference to the same extent that college-age adults do. The inferences examined were "predictive" inferences such as the inference that something bad would happen to the actress for the sentence "The director and cameraman were ready to shoot close-ups when suddenly the actress fell from the 14th story" (McKoon & Ratcliff, 1986). Participants read sentences like the actress one and then later they were asked to decide whether words that expressed an inference (e.g., "dead") had or had not appeared explicitly in a sentence. To directly compare older adults' performance to college-age adults' performance, we used a sequential sampling diffusion model (Ratcliff, 1978) to map response times and accuracy onto a single dimension of the strength with which an inference was encoded. On this dimension, there were no significant differences between the older and younger adults.

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Younger and older adults were tested for their ability to process and retrieve information from texts. The authors focused on the construction and retrieval of situation models relative to other types of text representations. The results showed that during memory retrieval, younger adults showed superior memory for surface form and textbase knowledge (what the text was), whereas older adults had equivalent or superior memory for situation model information (what the text was about). The results also showed that during reading, older and younger adults were similar in their sensitivity to various aspects of the texts. Overall, these findings suggest that although there are age-related declines in the processing and memory for text-based information, for higher level representations, these abilities appear to be preserved. Several possibilities for why this is the case are discussed, including an in-depth consideration of one possibility that involves W. Kintsch's (1988) construction-integration model.

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The size of the perceptual span (or the span of effective vision) in older readers was examined with the moving window paradigm (G. W. McConkie & K. Rayner, 1975). Two experiments demonstrated that older readers have a smaller and more symmetric span than that of younger readers. These 2 characteristics (smaller and more symmetric span) of older readers may be a consequence of their less efficient processing of nonfoveal information, which results in a riskier reading strategy.(c) 2009 APA, all rights reserved.

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Young adult and older readers' eye movements were recorded as they read sentences containing target words that varied in frequency or predictability. In addition, half of the sentences were printed in a font that was easy to read (Times New Roman) and the other half were printed in a font that was more difficult to read (Old English). Word frequency, word predictability, and font difficulty effects were apparent in the eye movement data of both groups of readers. In the fixation time data, the pattern of results was the same, but the older readers had larger frequency and predictability effects than the younger readers. The older readers skipped words more often than the younger readers (as indicated by their skipping rate on selected target words), but they made more regressions back to the target words and more regressions overall. The E-Z Reader model was used as a platform to evaluate the results, and simulations using the model suggest that lexical processing is slowed in older readers and that, possibly as a result of this, they adopt a more risky reading strategy.

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In addition to declines in auditory acuity, adult aging is often also accompanied by reduced cognitive efficiency, most notably in working memory resources and a general slowing in a number of perceptual and cognitive domains. Effectiveness of speech comprehension by older adults reflects a balance between these declines and the relative preservation in healthy aging of linguistic knowledge and the procedural rules for its application.To examine effects of hearing acuity in older adults on intelligibility functions for sentences that varied in two degrees of syntactic complexity, with their concomitant demands on older adults' working memory resources.Stimuli consisted of monosyllabic words presented in isolation, and nine-word sentences that varied in syntactic complexity. Two sentence types were employed: sentences with a subject-relative clause structure, and more syntactically complex sentences in which meaning was expressed with an object-relative clause structure. The stimuli were presented initially below the level of audibility and then increased in loudness in 2 dB increments until the single-word stimuli and all nine words of the sentence stimuli could be correctly reported.Participants were 16 older adults with good hearing acuity for their ages, 16 age-matched adults with mild-to-moderate hearing loss, and 16 young adults with age-normal hearing.Along with confirming better report accuracy for the words of meaningful sentences than for words heard in isolation, performance curves for the sentence stimuli showed a significant effect of syntactic complexity. This took the form of older adults having poorer report accuracy at any given loudness level for sentences with greater syntactic complexity. This general effect of syntactic complexity on perceptual report accuracy was further exacerbated by age and hearing loss.Age-limited working memory resources are impacted both by the resource demands required for comprehension of syntactically complex sentences and by effortful listening attendant to hearing loss.

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Human aging brings with it declines in sensory function, both in vision and in hearing, as well as a general slowing in a variety of perceptual and cognitive operations. Yet in spite of these declines, language comprehension typically remains well preserved in normal aging. We review data from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to describe a two-component model of sentence comprehension: a core sentence-processing area located in the perisylvian region of the left cerebral hemisphere and an associated network of brain regions that support the working memory and other resources needed for comprehension of long or syntactically complex sentences. We use this two-component model to describe the nature of compensatory recruitment of novel brain regions observed when healthy older adults show the same success at comprehending sentences as their younger adult counterparts. We suggest that this plasticity in neural recruitment contributes to the stability of language comprehension in the aging brain.

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Mechanisms of skill learning are paramount components for stroke recovery. Recent noninvasive brain stimulation studies demonstrated that decreasing activity in the contralesional motor cortex might be beneficial, providing transient functional improvements after stroke. The more crucial question, however, is whether this intervention can also enhance the acquisition of complex motor tasks, yielding longer-lasting functional improvements. In the present study, we tested the capacity of cathodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) applied over the contralesional motor cortex during training to enhance the acquisition and retention of complex sequential finger movements of the paretic hand.Twelve well-recovered chronic patients with subcortical stroke attended 2 training sessions during which either cathodal tDCS or a sham intervention were applied to the contralesional motor cortex in a double-blind, crossover design. Two different motor sequences, matched for their degree of complexity, were tested in a counterbalanced order during as well as 90 minutes and 24 hours after the intervention. Potential underlying mechanisms were evaluated with transcranial magnetic stimulation.tDCS facilitated the acquisition of a new motor skill compared with sham stimulation (P=0.04) yielding better task retention results. A significant correlation was observed between the tDCS-induced improvement during training and the tDCS-induced changes of intracortical inhibition (R(2)=0.63).These results indicate that tDCS is a promising tool to improve not only motor behavior, but also procedural learning. They further underline the potential of noninvasive brain stimulation as an adjuvant treatment for long-term recovery, at least in patients with mild functional impairment after stroke.

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