Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Robin Morris

Second Advisor

Erin Tone

Third Advisor

Bruce Crosson

Fourth Advisor

Chivon Mingo

Fifth Advisor

Felicia Goldstein


This study investigated learning and memory performance similarities and differences between healthy, Spanish-speaking older adults of Hispanic/Latino descent and English-speaking Caucasian older adults. It explored the possibility that the novelty of verbal memory tasks, along with cultural and educational differences, may lead to performance differences in Spanish-speaking older adults' effective use of organizational strategies, such as semantic clustering. It hypothesized that an alternative strategy instruction, which provided explicit detail on how to use the effective semantic clustering strategy, would reduce differences observed between the Hispanic and Caucasian groups. Forty-eight healthy, Spanish-speaking older adults and 55 healthy, English-speaking older adults were administered list-learning tasks in their dominant language. Under standard task instruction, Spanish-speaking older adults with low levels of formal education learned fewer words on the task than Caucasian and Hispanic participants who had higher levels of education. Hispanic participants, regardless of educational levels, also utilized semantic clustering recall at lower rates than Caucasian participants under standard instruction. When provided with explicit strategy instruction, both groups showed reduced list learning, and Hispanic older adults demonstrated reduced response to strategy manipulation compared to Caucasian participants. Finally, in the Hispanic older adult sample, the quality of their formal education and level of acculturation were identified as important predictors of verbal learning outcomes. These findings highlight the need to continue to examine the complex role of demographic and cultural variables on verbal learning and memory processes, as they may impact the assessment of pathological processes such as dementia, as well as the development of effective cognitive interventions for diverse elders.