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Are older adults more risky readers? Evidence from meta-analysis.

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posted on 2023-01-16, 15:24 authored by Jiaqi Zhang, Kayleigh Warrington, Lin Li, Ascension Pagan, Kevin Paterson, Sarah White, Victoria McGowan
According to an influential account of aging effects on reading, older adults (65+ years) employ a more “risky” reading strategy compared to young adults (18-30 years), in which they attempt to compensate for slower processing by using lexical and contextual knowledge to guess upcoming (i.e., parafoveal) words more often. Consequently, while older adults may read more slowly, they might also skip words more often (by moving their gaze past words without fixating them), especially when these are of higher lexical frequency or more predictable from context. However, this characterization of aging effects on reading has been challenged recently following several failures to replicate key aspects of the risky reading hypothesis, as well as evidence that key effects predicted by the hypothesis are not observed in Chinese reading. To resolve this controversy we conducted a meta-analysis of 102 eye movement experiments comparing the reading performance of young and older adults. We focused on the reading of sentences displayed normally (i.e. without unusual formatting or structures, or use of gaze-contingent display-change techniques), conducted using an alphabetic script or Chinese, and including experiments manipulating the frequency or predictability of a specific target word. Meta-analysis confirmed that slower reading by older compared to younger adults is accompanied by increased word-skipping, although only for alphabetic scripts. Meta-analysis additionally showed that word-skipping probabilities are unaffected by age differences in word frequency or predictability effects, casting doubt on a central component of the risky reading hypothesis. We consider implications for future research on aging effects on reading.


Jiaqi Zhang and Kayleigh Warrington are joint first authors. Jiaqi Zhang, Kayleigh L. Warrington, Lin Li, and Victoria A. McGowan conducted the meta-analyses. All of the authors contributed to the preparation of the manuscript. The research was supported by a Future Research Leaders Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Economic and Social Research Council (ES/L010836/1) to Victoria A. McGowan, a 1000 Talents Visiting Professorship to Kevin B. Paterson, and a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ES/R005567/1) led by Sarah J. White.


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Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour, College of Life Sciences


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Psychology and Aging








American Psychological Association



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