Schema Reliance for Developmental Goals Increases From Early to Late Adulthood: Improvement for the Young, Loss Prevention for the Old

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People tend to encode and retrieve information in terms of schemata, especially when processing resources are low. This study argues that the life-span schema about developmental goals constitutes a generalized expectation about the life course that associates young adults with growth and older adults with loss prevention. Predictions were that young and older adults possess this schema; that both age groups rely on it when remembering age-associated information about goals; and that this schema reliance is particularly pronounced among older adults, due to age-related difficulties in overcoming schemata. In Experiment 1, participants assigned growth or loss-prevention orientations to young and older faces and adhered to the life-span schema. In Experiment 2, participants were presented young and older faces paired with growth or loss prevention. When later asked to recognize faces and remember goal orientations, participants were more likely to remember young faces with growth and older faces with loss prevention than vice versa. This effect was more pronounced among older adults. Conclusions are that reliance on life-span schemata when remembering developmentally relevant information increases with age.

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