Structural differences in the semantic networks of younger and older adults


Cognitive science invokes semantic networks to explain diverse phenomena from reasoning to memory retrieval and creativity. While diverse approaches are available, researchers commonly assume a single underlying semantic network that is shared across individuals. Yet, semantic networks are considered the product of experience implying that individual who make different experiences should possess different semantic networks. By studying differences between younger and older adults, we demonstrate that this is the case. Using a network analytic approach and diverse empirical data, we present converging evidence of age-related differences in semantic networks of groups and, for the first time, individuals. Specifically, semantic networks of older adults exhibited larger degrees, less clustering, and longer path lengths. Furthermore, the edge weight distributions of older adults individual networks exhibited significantly more skew and higher entropy across node pairs and, except for unrelated node pairs, less inter-individual agreement, suggesting that older adults networks are generally more distinct than younger adults networks. Our results challenge the common conception of a single semantic network shared by individuals and highlight the importance of individual differences in cognitive modeling. They also present valuable benchmarks to discern between theories of age-related changes in cognitive performance.

In PsyArXiv