Age-related differences in adults’ ability to follow spoken instructions

Agnieszka J. Jaroslawska, Glen Bartup, Alicia Forsberg, Joni Holmes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
28 Downloads (Pure)


A growing body of research illustrates that working memory capacity is a crucial limiting factor in our ability to follow spoken instructions. Despite the ubiquitous nature of instruction following throughout the lifespan, how the natural ageing process affects the ability to do so is not yet fully understood. In this study we investigated the consequences of action at encoding and recall on the ability to follow spoken instructions. Younger (< 30 y/o) and older (> 65 y/o) adults recalled sequences of spoken action commands under presentation and recall conditions that either did or did not involve their physical performance. Both groups showed an enacted-recall advantage, with superior recall by physical performance than oral repetition. When both encoding and recall were purely verbal, older adults’ recall accuracy was comparable to that of their younger counterparts. When action was involved at either encoding or recall, however, the difference in performance between the two age groups became pronounced: enactment-based encoding significantly improved younger adults’ ability to follow spoken instructions; there was no such advantage for older adults. These data show that spatial-motoric representations disproportionately benefit younger adults’ memory performance. We discuss the practical implications of these findings in the context of lifelong learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-128
Issue number1
Early online date15 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 09 Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Working Memory
  • Action Advantage
  • Following Instructions
  • Ageing
  • Enactment


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