Cognitive aging is commonly associated with a decrease in executive functioning (EF). A specific component of EF, semantic inhibition, is addressed in the present study, which presents a meta-analytic review of the literature that has evaluated the performance on the Hayling Sentence Completion test in young and older groups of individuals in order to assess the magnitude of the age effect.


A systematic search involving Web of Science, PsyINFO, PsychARTICLE, and MedLine databases and Google Scholar was performed. A total of 11 studies were included in this meta-analysis, encompassing a total of 887 participants; 440 young and 447 older adults. The effect sizes for group differences on four measures of the Hayling test, latency responses and error scores on the Automatic and Inhibition sections of the test were calculated using the Comprehensive Meta-Analysis software package


The results revealed large age effects for response latencies in both the Automatic (Hedges’ g = 0.81) and Inhibitory conditions (Hedges’ g = 0.98), though the latter two effect sizes did not differ from each other. In contrast, analysis of errors revealed a significant difference between the small effect seen in the Automatic condition (Hedges’ g = 0.13) relative to the moderate effect seen in the Inhibition condition (Hedges’ g = 0.55).


These results may be important for a better understanding of the inhibitory functioning in elderly individuals, although they should be interpreted with caution because of the limited number of studies in the literature to date.

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