Healthy Aging and Sentence Production: Disrupted Lexical Access in the Context of Intact Syntactic Planning

Sophie M Hardy, Katrien Segaert, Linda Wheeldon

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2 Citations (Scopus)
135 Downloads (Pure)


Healthy aging does not affect all features of language processing equally. In this study, we investigated the effects of aging on different processes involved in fluent sentence production, a complex task that requires the successful execution and coordination of multiple processes. In Experiment 1, we investigated age-related effects on the speed of syntax selection using a syntactic priming paradigm. Both young and older adults produced target sentences quicker following syntactically related primes compared to unrelated primes, indicating that syntactic facilitation effects are preserved with age. In Experiment 2, we investigated age-related effects in syntactic planning and lexical retrieval using a planning scope paradigm: participants described moving picture displays designed to elicit sentences with either initial coordinate or simple noun phrases and, on half of the trials, the second picture was previewed. Without preview, both age groups were slower to initiate sentences with larger coordinate phrases, suggesting a similar phrasal planning scope. However, age-related differences did emerge relating to the preview manipulation: while young adults displayed speed benefits of preview in both phrase conditions, older adults only displayed speed preview benefits within the initial phrase (coordinate condition). Moreover, preview outside the initial phrase (simple condition) caused older adults to become significantly more error-prone. Thus, while syntactic planning scope appears unaffected by aging, older adults do appear to encounter problems with managing the activation and integration of lexical items into syntactic structures. Taken together, our findings indicate that healthy aging disrupts the lexical, but not the syntactic, processes involved in sentence production.

Original languageEnglish
Article number257
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2020 Hardy, Segaert and Wheeldon.


  • healthy aging
  • lexical retrieval
  • priming
  • sentence production
  • syntactic planning


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