Selecting Valuable Information to Remember: Age-Related Differences and Similarities in Self-Regulated Learning

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It is often necessary to selectively attend to important information, at the expense of less important information, especially if you know you cannot remember large amounts of information. The present study examined how younger and older adults select valuable information to study, when given unrestricted choices about how to allocate study time. Participants were shown a display of point values ranging from 1–30. Participants could choose which values to study, and the associated word was then shown. Study time, and the choice to restudy words, was under the participant's control during the 2-minute study session. Overall, both age groups selected high value words to study and studied these more than the lower value words. However, older adults allocated a disproportionately greater amount of study time to the higher-value words, and age-differences in recall were reduced or eliminated for the highest value words. In addition, older adults capitalized on recency effects in a strategic manner, by studying high-value items often but also immediately before the test. A multilevel mediation analysis indicated that participants strategically remembered items with higher point value, and older adults showed similar or even stronger strategic process that may help to compensate for poorer memory. These results demonstrate efficient (and different) metacognitive control operations in younger and older adults, which can allow for strategic regulation of study choices and allocation of study time when remembering important information. The findings are interpreted in terms of life span models of agenda-based regulation and discussed in terms of practical applications.

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