Story Asides as a Useful Construct in Examining Adults’ Story Recall

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Abstract

Older adults sometimes exhibit higher levels of off-target verbosity during story recall than do young adults. This appears as the inclusion of extraneous information not directly relevant to the topic. Some production of such material has been clearly related to cognitive decline, particularly older adults’ inability to inhibit production of irrelevant information. In tandem, however, research also suggests that some extraneous information is indirectly related to the topic and may reflect age differences in communicative styles. To further elucidate the social–cognitive aspect of this issue, the question of import is: What is the content of the additional information provided by participants during story recall? The present study answers this question. Grounded in the autobiographical memory and life story literatures, we introduce the construct, story asides, and a reliable content-analytic scheme for its assessment. Young and older adults (N = 129) recalled 1 of 2 types of stories: a personal autobiographical memory or an experimenter-generated fictional story. Narratives were reliably coded for story asides. As expected, older adults produced more story asides than young adults only for autobiographical stories. The discussion focuses on the role of story asides in everyday communication including the possibility that they may be a sign of communicative expertise.

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