Does the Age-Related Positivity Effect in Autobiographical Recall Reflect Differences in Appraisal or Memory?

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Abstract

Objectives.

Two studies examined the extent to which the age-related positivity effect in autobiographical recall is the result of age differences in appraisal and memory.

Methods.

In Study 1, older and younger participants reported 1 pleasant and 1 unpleasant event for 5 days. Participants attempted to recall those events a week later. In Study 2, older and younger participants imagined that positive, negative, and neutral hypothetical events had occurred either to themselves or to an acquaintance and were later asked to recall those events.

Results.

In Study 1, younger adults reported a complete set of positive and negative events. Older adults reported a pleasant event each day, but 38% did not report an unpleasant event on at least 1 day. A week later, older and younger adults were equally likely to recall the events they had reported. In Study 2, older adults who imagined events happened to themselves rated events as more positive in valence than younger adults did. Older and younger adults were equally likely to remember pleasant and unpleasant events at the end of the study.

Discussion.

The data suggest that the age-related positivity effect resides in the appraisal rather than the recall of autobiographical events.

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