Aging and memory as discrimination: Influences of encoding specificity, cue overload, and prior knowledge

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Abstract

From the perspective of memory-as-discrimination, whether a cue leads to correct retrieval simultaneously depends on the cue's relationship to (a) the memory target and (b) the other retrieval candidates. A corollary of the view is that increasing encoding-retrieval match may only help memory if it improves the cue's capacity to discriminate the target from competitors. Here, age differences in this discrimination process were assessed by manipulating the overlap between cues present at encoding and retrieval orthogonally with cue-target distinctiveness. In Experiment 1, associative memory differences for cue-target sets between young and older adults were minimized through training and retrieval efficiency was assessed through response time. In Experiment 2, age-group differences in associative memory were left to vary and retrieval efficiency was assessed through accuracy. Both experiments showed ageinvariance in memory-as-discrimination: cues increasing encoding-retrieval match did not benefit memory unless they also improved discrimination between the target and competitors. Predictions based on the age-related associative deficit were also supported: prior knowledge alleviated age-related associative deficits (Experiment 1), and increasing encoding-retrieval match benefited older more than young adults (Experiment 2). We suggest that the latter occurred because older adults' associative memory deficits reduced the impact of competing retrieval candidates- hence the age-related benefit was not attributable to encoding-retrieval match per se, but rather it was a joint function of an increased probability of the cue connecting to the target combined with a decrease in competing retrieval candidates.

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Badham, S. P., Poirier, M., Gandhi, N., Hadjivassiliou, A., & Maylor, E. A. (2016). Aging and memory as discrimination: Influences of encoding specificity, cue overload, and prior knowledge. Psychology and Aging, 31(7), 758–770. https://doi.org/10.1037/pag0000126

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