Age-related differences in mental categorisation and recognition for schematic faces
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The nature of the processes underlying the categorisation of perceptual experiences in long term memory (LTM) has been hotly debated in the research literature. The prototype account of mental categorisation purports that a mental abstraction, or prototype, is formed for each mental category stored in LTM. Exemplar theories, in contrast, postulate that mental categories are represented by instances stored in LTM, and that recognition is therefore dependent on the degree of similarity between the encountered stimulus and representations of experienced exemplars, not an abstracted prototype. Recent studies have suggested the presence of age-related differences in the categorisation of visual stimuli, with older individuals demonstrating inferior performance in abstracting prototypes. Other studies, in contrast, have suggested that individuals recognise visual patterns based on similarity to a stored mental prototype, regardless of age. Using a new/old recognition task for schematic faces, the present study employed a double-dissociation paradigm to differentiate prototype- and exemplar-based processes in younger and older age groups. It is hoped that results will establish a clearer understanding of age-related differences in the categorisation and recognition of visual patterns, which may have diagnostic utility by providing a foundation for non-verbal methods of assessing cognitive decline. Results of the study support prototype accounts of mental categorisation which was found to be robust to the effects of chronological ageing. However, some age-related differences were observed in regard to response time.