The contribution of discursive and cognitive factors in referential choices made by elderly people during a narrative task.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Neuropsychol Dev Cogn B Aging Neuropsychol Cogn, p.1-22 (2023)


<p>The present study focuses on referential choices made by healthy aged adults during narrative discourse, and their relationship with cognitive and socio-cognitive abilities. Previously, some studies have shown that, compared to young adults, older adults produce more pronouns when referring to various entities during discourse, regardless of the accessibility level of the referent for the addressee. This referential behavior has been interpreted in relation to the decrease of cognitive abilities, such as working memory abilities. There is, as of yet, little empirical evidence highlighting which cognitive competences preferentially support referential choices during discourse production. Here, we focus on three categories of referential markers (indefinite, definite markers and pronouns) produced by 78 participants from 60 to 91 years old. We used a storytelling task enabling us to examine the referential choices made at three discourse stages (introduction, maintaining or shift of the referent in focus) and in increasing levels of referential complexity (one vs two characters, and different vs same gender). In addition to specifically assessing how increasing age influences referential choices, we also examine the contribution of various cognitive and socio-cognitive skills that are presumed to play a specific role in referential choices. We found that both age and specific cognitive abilities (planification, inhibition, and verbal episodic memory) had an effect on referential choices, but that these effects depended on when (at which discourse stage) the referential markers were produced. Overall, our study highlights the complex interplay between discursive and cognitive factors in referential choices made by healthy older speakers.</p>

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