Memory for Allergies and Health Foods: How Younger and Older Adults Strategically Remember Critical Health Information

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While older adults often display memory deficits, with practice, they can sometimes selectively remember valuable information at the expense of less value information. We examined age-related differences and similarities in memory for health-related information under conditions where some information was critical to remember.


In Experiment 1, participants studied 3 lists of allergens, ranging in severity from 0 (not a health risk) to 10 (potentially fatal), with the instruction that it was particularly important to remember items to which a fictional relative was most severely allergic. After each list, participants received feedback regarding their recall of the high-value allergens. Experiment 2 examined memory for health benefits, presenting foods that were potentially beneficial to the relative’s immune system.


While younger adults exhibited better overall memory for the allergens, both age groups in Experiment 1 developed improved selectivity across the lists, with no evident age differences in severe allergen recall by List 2. Selectivity also developed in Experiment 2, although age differences for items of high health benefit were present.


The results have implications for models of selective memory in older age, and for how aging influences the ability to strategically remember important information within health-related contexts.

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