The effects of selective survival on black adults' cognitive development

Shyuan Ching Tan, Alyssa A. Gamaldo, Timothy Brick, Roland J. Thorpe, Jason C. Allaire, Keith E. Whitfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: The theory of selective survival suggests that possibly around 70-75 years of age, Blacks may display substantive changes in their pattern of cognitive decline. This study examined the age-graded pattern of cognitive decline within older Blacks by describing a trend that characterizes differences in the change of cognitive decline from ages 51.5 to 95.5, and hypothesized that this age-graded pattern is nonlinear. Method: Utilizing 2 waves of longitudinal data from the Baltimore Study of Black Aging, this study used multilevel modeling to test whether the interaction between age and the 3-year study period (time between waves) had a positive effect on changes in inductive reasoning, declarative memory, working memory, and perceptual speed. Results: A significant positive interaction between age and wave was found for inductive reasoning, demonstrating an age-grade pattern of change/decline in cognitive pattern for Blacks aged 51.5-95.4. Simple slope probing via the Johnson-Neyman Technique suggested that Black adults ~64 years and younger experienced significant decline in inductive reasoning across study time, whereas for those older than 63.71, the decline was nonsignificant. No significant age-wave interactions were found for declarative memory, working memory, or perceptual speed. Discussion: Findings suggest a selective survival effect for inductive reasoning ability among Blacks. With decline evident so early, common cognitive intervention programs targeting adults 65+ may come too late for Blacks, signifying the importance and urgency for early health interventions and public policy designed to promote cognitive reserve.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1489-1498
Number of pages10
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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