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For some time now, the study of cognitive development has been far and away the most active discipline within developmental psychology. Although there would be much disagreement as to the exact proportion of papers published in developmental journals that could be considered cognitive, 50% seems like a conservative estimate. Hence, a series of scholarly books to be devoted to work in cognitive development is especially appropriate at this time. The Springer Series in Cognitive Development contains two basic types of books, namely, edited collections of original chapters by several authors, and original volumes written by one author or a small group of authors. The flagship for the Springer Series is a serial publication of the "e;advances"e; type, carrying the subtitle Progress in Cognitive Development Research. Volumes in the Progress sequence are strongly thematic, in that each is limited to some well-defined domain of cognitive-developmental research (e. g. , logical and mathematical development, semantic development). All Progress volumes are edited collections. Editors of such books, upon consultation with the Series Editor, may elect to have their works published either as contributions to the Progress sequence or as separate volumes. All books written by one author or a small group of authors will be published as separate volumes within the series. A fairly broad definition of cognitive development is being used in the selection of books for this series.
This monograph is the written version of a series of talks delivered as recent MacEachran Lectures at the University of Alberta. The informal style of the lectures, and the inclusion of a relatively large number of figures, has been preserved in order to keep the monograph faithful to the concept of an individual attempting to integrate his own research into a reasonably coherent framework. Although the volume is very much a personal account of one individual's perspective, the studies reported are naturally a product of many collaborations as well as inspirations from colleagues. The fundamental issue addressed is how adult age differences in fluid or process aspects of cognitive functioning are to be explained. Several potential mediators are considered, with most of the emphasis devoted to the investigation of working memory and processing speed as variables mediating relations between age and cognition.
The phenomenon of age-related cognitive decline has long been controversial, both in terms of mere existence, and with respect to how it is explained. Some researchers have dismissed it as an artifact of declining health or lower levels of education, and others have attributed it to general changes occurring in the external environment. Still other interpretations have been based on the "e;use it or lose it"e; principle -- known as the Disuse Hypothesis -- or on the idea that there are qualitative differences in either the structure or the process of cognition across the adult years. Perhaps the most popular approach at present relies on the information-processing perspective and attempts to identify the critical processing component most responsible for age-related differences in cognition. The primary purposes of this book are first to review the evidence of age-related differences in cognitive functioning and then to evaluate the major explanations proposed to account for the negative relations between age and cognition that have been established. Included is a discussion of theoretical dimensions and levels of scientific theorizing assumed to be helpful in understanding and evaluating alternative perspectives on cognitive aging. The various perspectives are then covered in detail and analyzed. The text concludes with observations about the progress that has been made in explaining cognitive aging phenomena, plus recommendations for research practices that might contribute to greater progress in the future.