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.