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Cognitive mechanisms that lead to age related memory deficits

Final Report Summary - CHARM (Cognitive mechanisms that lead to age related memory deficits)

ChArM investigated the cognitive mechanisms that lead to age related memory deficits. It has been proposed that aging selectively impairs controlled processes that contribute to memory performance, such as elaborative encoding and/or strategic retrieval. An alternative view suggests that aging might lead to a global decline in processing efficiency, whereby both automatic and controlled processes are affected.

The project entailed studies testing whether aging has a similar or differential impact on automatic and controlled processes that contribute to memory performance. To this end:

Obj. (1) determined differences in general processing efficiency across young and older adults.

Obj. (2) investigated how aging impacts memory performance in the presence of interference.

Obj. (3) evaluated how aging impacts on the recovery of relational information, namely temporal order information.

With regards to Obj. (1), the project proposed a novel approach, namely the response-signal speed-accuracy trade-off procedure (SAT) to obtain unbiased estimates of retrieval speed and accuracy in short-term recognition memory. Results indicated comparable accuracy levels across young and older adults. In addition, despite comparable overall accuracy levels, older adults exhibited slower retrieval speed.

With regards to Obj. (2), employing the SAT procedure to a short-term recognition task that manipulated the recency of test probes allowed to specifically pinpoint whether aging impacts automatic or controlled processes, or both during interference resolution. Findings indicated no measurable impact of aging on early automatic recognition memory judgments. In contrast, accrual of detailed episodic information was reliably slower for older adults. These findings suggest that older adults have a selective impairment on controlled retrieval operations in the presence of interference.

To achieve Obj. (3), temporal order memory retrieval across older and young adults was assessed. To do so, a relative judgments of recency task was employed, and the obtained data was evaluated by a serial memory search model. Results showed that older adults were slower in engaging in the serial memory search operations compared to their younger counterparts.

Collectively, project results implicated a selective deficit of older adults in controlled memory operations that support interference resolution and access to relational information. These findings can better inform computational and theoretical models of the effects of aging on memory. At a broader level, by providing additional insight into the underlying mechanisms that mediate age-related deficits in cognitive processing, the project can benefit the society, in better understanding as well as facilitating ways to overcome the specific challenges older adults face in their cognitive functioning.

The project fostered:

1) Training of a research assistant, two doctoral students, one postdoctoral researcher in the Fellow’s laboratory, as well as additional mentoring of five graduate students through collaborations
2) Two journal articles (one published, one under review) and two conference presentations directly disseminating the project results
3) Six journal articles, twelve conference proceedings, and eleven conference abstracts disseminating research from the Fellow’s laboratory
4) Collaborations in the host institution as well national and international collaborations
5) Promotion of the fellow to associate professor at the host institution.