Semantic Activation and Episodic Odor Recognition in Young and Older Adults

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Young, young–old, and old adults were examined in immediate and delayed episodic recognition of common odors. Items were presented in 3 different formats: name-only, odor-only, or odor-name. Ss made familiarity ratings for all items at study. In the delayed recognition test, Ss were asked to name the odors. Young Ss outperformed the 2 older age groups in both recognition tests, although the 2 older groups did not differ. Performance was higher in the odor-name condition than in the single-format conditions. Both familiarity and naming were related to recognition in all age groups. Most important, when naming was statistically controlled, age differences in odor recognition disappeared, suggesting that access to verbal labels largely determine age differences in recognition of common odors. Finally, the finding that recognition was enhanced in both young and older Ss in the odor-name condition suggests that odor memory may involve a similar degree of plasticity as other varieties of episodic memory.

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