Working Memory and the Strategic Control of Attention in Older and Younger Adults

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Abstract

Objective.

The objective of this study was to investigate the effects of aging on the strategic control of attention and the extent to which this relationship is mediated by working memory capacity (WMC). This study also sought to investigate boundary conditions wherein age differences in selectivity may occur.

Method.

Across 2 studies, the value-directed remembering task used by Castel and colleagues (Castel, A. D., Balota, D. A., & McCabe, D. P. (2009). Memory efficiency and the strategic control of attention at encoding: Impairments of value-directed remembering in Alzheimer’s Disease. Neuropsychology, 23, 297–306) was modified to include value-directed forgetting. Study 2 incorporated valence as an additional task demand, and age differences were predicted in both studies due to increased demands of controlled processing. Automated operation span and Stroop span were included as working memory measures, and working memory was predicted to mediate performance.

Results.

Results confirmed these predictions, as older adults were less efficient in maximizing selectivity scores when high demands were placed on selectivity processes, and working memory was found to mediate performance on this task.

Discussion.

When list length was increased from previous studies and participants were required to actively forget negative-value words, older adults were not able to selectively encode high-value information to the same degree as younger adults. Furthermore, WMC appears to support the ability to selectively encode information.

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