No evidence that ‘fast-mapping’ benefits novel learning in healthy Older adults

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Much evidence suggests that the Hippocampus is necessary for learning novel associations. Contrary to this, Sharon, Moscovitch, and Gilboa (2011) reported four amnesic patients with Hippocampal damage who maintained the capacity to learn novel object-name associations when trained with a ‘fast-mapping’ (FM) technique. This technique therefore potentially offers an alternative route for learning novel information in populations experiencing memory problems. We examined this potential in healthy ageing, by comparing 24 Older and 24 Young participants who completed a FM procedure very similar to Sharon et al. (2011). As expected, the Older group showed worse memory than the Young group under standard explicit encoding (EE) instructions. However, the Older group continued to show worse performance under the FM procedure, with no evidence that FM alleviated their memory deficit. Indeed, performance was worse for the FM than EE condition in both groups. Structural MRI scans confirmed reduced Hippocampal grey-matter volume in the Older group, which correlated with memory performance across both groups and both EE/FM conditions. We conclude FM does not help memory problems that occur with normal ageing, and discuss theoretical implications for memory theories.

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