Inhibitory deficit theory: Recent developments in a "new view"

  • Lustig C
  • Hasher L
  • Zacks R
  • 216


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A major view in cognitive psychology presumes the existence of limits on mental capacity, limits that vary with circumstances and task demands and that largely determine the performance of individuals. The Daneman and Carpenter measure of working memory is thought to give a snapshot of capacity by assessing an individual's ability to actively maintain important information while also engaging in some form of ongoing processing. From a capacity viewpoint, the bigger the mental desk space, the better performance should be on a wide range of tasks, including reading comprehension and reasoning. On the assumption that older adults have reduced working memory capacity, age differences might be explained. However, a study on reading comprehension and memory had findings that were uninterpretable from this perspective. Older adults showed comprehension of stories that equaled that of young adults but did so by keeping more, not less, information in mind as they read. These capacity-challenging findings were critical to the development of an alternative view of cognition and of age (and individual) differences in cognition. Two simple hypotheses were advanced: (a) that activation in response to familiar cues and thoughts is largely automatic, as is its spread through a network, and (b) that activation requires down-regulation for goals to be accomplished. Activation was presumed to be equivalent across people and circumstances. Down-regulation was presumed to require inhibition and also to differ among individuals and across groups and circumstances to account for performance in a wide range of tasks.

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  • Cindy Lustig

  • Lynn Hasher

  • Rose T. Zacks

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