Stability of Age-Related Deficits in the Mnemonic Similarity Task Across Task Variations

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Several studies in our lab and others have demonstrated age-related declines in mnemonic discrimination during a recognition memory paradigm using repeated items, similar lures, and novel foils. In particular, older adults exhibit a shift in lure discriminability, identifying similar lures as old items at a greater rate than young adults. This shift likely reflects deficits in pattern separation processing as a result of underlying changes in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. Here, we explored whether alterations in the task design could rescue the age-related impairment or whether it was ubiquitous as one might expect if the neurobiological mechanisms were truly disturbed by typical aging. Despite overt instructions to study item details during encoding, we replicated the age-related deficit in mnemonic discrimination. We established reliable effects with short lists of stimuli and with repeated testing. Altering the task design from a study/test to a continuous recognition paradigm replicated the age-related shift in lure discrimination as well. Modifying the task to an old/new response (rather than old/similar/new) showed the same effect and a d′ analysis showed that lure items were more akin to target items in older adults. Finally, we varied the test instructions in order to promote gist or veridical responses in the old/new task. Even these overt veridical test instructions did not ameliorate older adults’ lure discrimination problems. Together, these findings demonstrate the robust nature of this age-related deficit and support the hypothesis that typical aging results in neurobiological changes that underlie this impairment.

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