Integrative and Semantic Relations Equally Alleviate Age-Related Associative Memory Deficits

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Two experiments compared effects of integrative and semantic relations between pairs of words on lexical and memory processes in old age. Integrative relations occur when two dissimilar and unassociated words are linked together to form a coherent phrase (e.g., horse-doctor). In Experiment 1, older adults completed a lexical-decision task where prime and target words were related either integratively or semantically. The two types of relation both facilitated responses compared to a baseline condition, demonstrating that priming can occur in older adults with minimal preexisting associations between primes and targets. In Experiment 2, young and older adults completed a cued recall task with integrative, semantic, and unrelated word pairs. Both integrative and semantic pairs showed significantly smaller age differences in associative memory compared to unrelated pairs. Integrative relations facilitated older adults' memory to a similar extent as semantic relations despite having few preexisting associations in memory. Integratability of stimuli is therefore a new factor that reduces associative deficits in older adults, most likely by supporting encoding and retrieval mechanisms.

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