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Biology of Aging

Maryellen Macdonald

Maryellen C. Macdonald

Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles
Professor, Department of Psychology

Language and Memory in Aging

My research investigates language comprehension and language production and the role of working memory in these two processes. Working memory (another common term is "short term memory") is the memory system that holds information temporarily while you are using language and doing many everyday tasks. Working memory capacity typically declines somewhat in healthy aging, and it declines dramatically in Alzheimer's Disease and other dementias. Conversely, experience using language accumulates throughout the lifespan, with the result that elderly adults often outperform young adults on some measures of language knowledge such as vocabulary tests. My colleagues and I investigate the effects of language experience and working memory capacity on language comprehension and production abilities. Some of our studies investigate experience in young adults, for example, comparing individuals who read a great deal vs. ones who do less reading, or by giving people different kinds of reading experiences over the course of a month and examining the effects of these experiences on comprehension abilities.

Other studies compare comprehension and production processes in young adults, older adults, and patients with Alzheimer's Disease. In these studies, my colleagues and I assess working memory capacity and its relationship to different aspects of language, such as use and comprehension of pronouns like "he" and "she," understanding verb and noun meanings, reading abilities, and other language processes.

I am also involved in assessing memory and language abilities in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, for example, examining the relationship between memory abilities in survey participants, now in their 60's, to their performance on high school achievement tests in the 1950's.

Representative Publications
MacDonald, M. C. (2016). Memory limitations and chunking are variable and cannot explain language structure. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 39, e84.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1017/s0140525x15000898

MacDonald, M. C., Montag, J. L., & Gennari, S. P. (2016). Are there really syntactic complexity effects in sentence production? A reply to Scontras et al. (2015). Cognitive Science, 40(2), 513-518.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1111/cogs.12255

Hsiao, Y., & MacDonald, M. C. (2016). Production predicts comprehension: Animacy effects in mandarin relative clause processing. Journal of Memory and Language, 89, 87-109.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1016/j.jml.2015.11.006

MacDonald, M. C. (2016). Speak, act, remember: The language-production basis of serial order and maintenance in verbal memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25(1), 47-53.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1177/0963721415620776

Willits, J.A., Amato, M.S., & MacDonald, M.C. (2015). Language knowledge and event knowledge in language use. Cognitive Psychology, 78, 1-27.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1016/j.cogpsych.2015.02.002

Montag, J.L., & MacDonald, M.C. (2014). Visual salience modulates structure choice in relative clause production. Language and Speech, 57(Pt 2), 163-180.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1177/0023830913495656

MacDonald, M. C. (2013). How language production shapes language form and comprehension. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 1-16.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00226

Mirkovic, J., & MacDonald, M. C. (2013). When singular and plural are both grammatical: Semantic and morphophonological effects in agreement. Journal of Memory and Language, 69, 277-298.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1016/j.jml.2013.05.001

MacDonald, M. C. (2013). Production is at the left edge of the PDC but still central: Response to commentaries Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 1-3.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00227

Gennari, S. P., Mirković, J., & MacDonald, M. C. (2012). Animacy and competition in relative clause production: A cross-linguistic investigation. Cognitive Psychology, 65(2), 141-176.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1016/j.cogpsych.2012.03.002

Acheson, D. J., & Macdonald, M. C. (2011). The rhymes that the reader perused confused the meaning: Phonological Effects during on-line sentence comprehension. Journal of Memory and Language, 65(2), 193-207.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1016/j.jml.2011.04.006

Acheson, D. J., MacDonald, M. C., & Postle, B. R. (2011). The effect of concurrent semantic categorization on delayed serial recall. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 37(1), 44-59.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1037/a0021205

Stallings, L. M., & MacDonald, M. C. (2011). It's not just the "heavy NP": Relative phrase length modulates the production of heavy-NP shift. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 40(3), 177-187.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1007/s10936-010-9163-x

Acheson, D.J., Postle, B.R., & MacDonald, M.C. (2010). The interaction of concreteness and phonological similarity in verbal working memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 36(1), 17-36.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1037/a0017679

Amato, M. S., & MacDonald, M. C. (2010). Sentence processing in an artificial language: Learning and using combinatorial constraints. Cognition, 116(1), 143-148.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1016/j.cognition.2010.04.001

Haskell, T. R., Thornton, R., & Macdonald, M. C. (2010). Experience and grammatical agreement: Statistical learning shapes number agreement production. Cognition, 114(2), 151-164.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1016/j.cognition.2009.08.017

Acheson, D.J. & MacDonald, M.C. (2009). Verbal working memory and language production: Common approaches to the serial ordering of verbal information. Psychological Bulletin, 135(1), 50-68.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1037/a0014411

Dagerman, K.S., MacDonald, M.C., & Harm, M. (2006). Aging and the use of context in ambiguity resolution: Complex changes from simple slowing. Cognitive Science, 30, 311-345.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1207/s15516709cog0000_46

MacDonald, M.C., Almor, A., Henderson, V.W., Kempler, D., & Andersen, E.S. (2001). Assessing working memory and language comprehension in Alzheimer's disease. Brain and Language, 78, 17-42.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1006/brln.2000.2436

Almor, A., MacDonald, M.C., Kempler, D., Andersen, E.S., & Tyler, L.K. (2001). Comprehension of long distance number agreement in probable Alzheimer's disease. Language and Cognitive Processes, 16, 35-63.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1080/01690960042000094

Almor, A., Kempler, D., MacDonald, M.C., Andersen, E.S., & Tyler, L.K. (1999). Why do Alzheimer patients have difficulty with pronouns? Working memory, semantics, and reference in comprehension and production in Alzheimer's disease. Brain and Language, 67, 202-227.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1006/brln.1999.2055

Kempler, D., Almor, A., MacDonald, M.C., & Andersen, E. (1999). Working with limited memory: Sentence comprehension in Alzheimer's disease. In S. Kemper & R. Kliegl (Eds.), Constraints on language: Aging, grammar, and memory. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Kempler, D., Almor, A., & MacDonald, M.C. (1998). Teasing apart the contribution of memory and language impairments in Alzheimer's disease: An on-line study of sentence comprehension. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 7, 61-67.

Kempler, D., Almor, A., Tyler, L.K., Andersen, E.S., & MacDonald, M.C. (1998). Sentence comprehension in Alzheimer's disease: A comparison of off-line vs. on-line sentence processing. Brain and Language, 64, 297-316.
View publication via DOI: DOI:10.1006/brln.1998.1980

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