Age-Related Impairment on a Forced-Choice Version of the Mnemonic Similarity Task

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Abstract

Previous studies from our lab have indicated that healthy older adults are impaired in their ability to mnemonically discriminate between previously viewed objects and similar lure objects in the Mnemonic Similarity Task (MST). These studies have used either old/similar/new or old/new test formats. The forced-choice test format (e.g., “Did you see object A or object A′ during the encoding phase?”) relies on different assumptions than the old/new test format (e.g., “Did you see this object during the encoding phase?”); hence, converging evidence from these approaches would bolster the conclusion that healthy aging is accompanied by impaired performance on the MST. Consistent with our hypothesis, healthy older adults exhibited impaired performance on a forced-choice test format that required discriminating between a target and a similar lure. We also tested the hypothesis that age-related impairments on the MST could be modeled within a global matching computational framework. We found that decreasing the probability of successful feature encoding in the models caused changes that were similar to the empirical data in healthy older adults. Collectively, our behavioral results using the forced-choice format extend the finding that healthy aging is accompanied by an impaired ability to discriminate between targets and similar lures, and our modeling results suggest that a diminished probability of encoding stimulus features is a candidate mechanism for memory changes in healthy aging. We also discuss the ability of global matching models to account for findings in other studies that have used variants on mnemonic similarity tasks.

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