Abstract

Objectives:

The objectives of this Introduction to the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences special issue on “50 Years of Cognitive Aging Theory” are to provide a brief overview of cognitive aging research prior to 1965 and to highlight significant developments in cognitive aging theory over the last 50 years.

Method:

Historical and recent theories of cognitive aging were reviewed, with a particular focus on those not directly covered by the articles included in this special issue.

Results:

Prior to 1965, cognitive aging research was predominantly descriptive, identifying what aspects of intellectual functioning are affected in older compared with younger adults. Since the mid-1960s, there has been an increasing interest in how and why specific components of cognitive domains are differentially affected in aging and a growing focus on cognitive aging neuroscience.

Discussion:

Significant advances have taken place in our theoretical understanding of how and why certain components of cognitive functioning are or are not affected by aging. We also know much more now than we did 50 years ago about the underlying neural mechanisms of these changes. The next 50 years undoubtedly will bring new theories, as well as new tools (e.g., neuroimaging advances, neuromodulation, and technology), that will further our understanding of cognitive aging.

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