Situation model updating in young and older adults: Global versus incremental mechanisms

Heather R. Bailey, Jeffrey M. Zacks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Readers construct mental models of situations described by text. Activity in narrative text is dynamic, so readers must frequently update their situation models when dimensions of the situation change. Updating can be incremental, such that a change leads to updating just the dimension that changed, or global, such that the entire model is updated. Here, we asked whether older and young adults make differential use of incremental and global updating. Participants read narratives containing changes in characters and spatial location and responded to recognition probes throughout the texts. Responses were slower when probes followed a change, suggesting that situation models were updated at changes. When either dimension changed, responses to probes for both dimensions were slowed; this provides evidence for global updating. Moreover, older adults showed stronger evidence of global updating than did young adults. One possibility is that older adults perform more global updating to offset reduced ability to manipulate information in working memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)232-244
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology and Aging
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Aging
  • Language comprehension
  • Situation models
  • Updating


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