Aging and Emotional Memory: Cognitive Mechanisms Underlying the Positivity Effect

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Abstract

Younger adults tend to remember negative information better than positive or neutral information (negativity bias). The negativity bias is reduced in aging, with older adults occasionally exhibiting superior memory for positive, as opposed to negative or neutral, information (positivity bias). Two experiments with younger (N = 24 in Experiment 1, N = 25 in Experiment 2; age range: 18–35 years) and older adults (N = 24 in both experiments; age range: 60–85 years) investigated the cognitive mechanisms responsible for age-related differences in recognition memory for emotional information. Results from diffusion model analyses (R. Ratcliff, 1978) indicated that the effects of valence on response bias were similar in both age groups but that Age × Valence interactions emerged in memory retrieval. Specifically, older adults experienced greater overall familiarity for positive items than younger adults. We interpret this finding in terms of an age-related increase in the accessibility of positive information in long-term memory.

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