Good spellers age better than poor spellers

Poor spellers get worse at spelling as they get older, whereas good spellers don’t. That’s according to Sara Margolin and Lise Abrams who say that being a good speller appears to afford people protection from the detrimental effect that getting older can have on spelling ability.

The spelling ability of 64 healthy younger participants (aged 17 to 24 years) and 64 healthy older participants (aged 61 to 91 years) was tested by asking participants to say whether words presented to them were spelt correctly or not, or by asking them to write out the correct spelling of words that were spoken to them.

Among the younger participants, the half who scored higher in the spelling tests were categorised as good spellers; the half with lower scores were categorised as poor (i.e. a median split). The same good/poor split was also applied among the older group members.

Margolin and Abrams found that the older good spellers were just as good at spelling as the younger good spellers, but crucially, the older poor spellers were significantly worse at spelling than the younger poor spellers.

“…these results suggest that being a poor speller is especially problematic in old age, where ageing compounds the existing problems caused by poor spelling,” the researchers said.

Margolin and Abrams went on to say that their finding raises some interesting questions for future research. “If being a poor speller compounds age declines in spelling, then the same principle may also apply to other cognitive processes,” they wrote. “i.e. Do young adults with poorer memories exhibit more pronounced memory declines as they age than young adults with good memories?”

Margolin, S.J. & Abrams, L. (2007). Individual differences in young and older adults’ spelling: Do good spellers age better than poor spellers? Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 14, 529-544.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

3 thoughts on “Good spellers age better than poor spellers”

  1. I’ve not read the full article, and this isn’t really my area, but might this not simply reflect the differing education the groups received? The naturally bright and the wealthy have always been able to get a decent education one way or another; but I think that education for the rest has probably improved significantly in the last 50+ years.

  2. Yes, since the past spelling of the individual subjects weren’t compared with the present spelling, I don’t see how someone could make the claim poor spellers get worse with age. All this says is that young poor spellers are better spellers than old poor spllers–which to me would make much more sense as a generational difference rather than an age difference. Why is it that the word ‘causation’ comes up so many times when test results are released?

  3. Eh, sorry, I was an EXCELLENT speller all through school, and find that, now in my mid-50's, I second-guess my spelling more often than not.
    Grammar abilities have not declined though.

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