Memory for Important Item-Location Associations in Younger and Older Adults

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Older adults typically experience memory impairments for verbal and visuospatial episodic information, which are most pronounced for associative information. Although some age-related verbal memory deficits may be reduced by selectively focusing on high-value item information, the binding of items to locations in visuospatial memory involves different processes that are impaired in older adults. In the current study, we examined whether age-related impairment in visuospatial binding could be alleviated by strategic focus on important information and whether varying study time and presentation formats would affect such selectivity. We also used novel spatial resolutions analysis to examine participants’ gist-based visuospatial memory with respect to information importance. Younger and older adults were presented with items worth different point values in a visuospatial display, either sequentially (Experiment 1) or simultaneously (Experiment 2). When items were presented sequentially, participants became more selective with task experience, but when items were presented simultaneously, selectivity was maintained throughout the task. These patterns were also observed when encoding time was reduced for younger adults. Although older adults successfully engaged in value-based memory strategies, age-related visuospatial memory deficits were still present, even for high-value information, consistent with the associative deficit hypothesis. However, under some conditions, older adults showed reduced spatial relocation errors for high-value item-location associations. The results suggest that strategic control can be used when binding information in visuospatial memory, and that both younger and older adults can benefit by focusing on high-value items and their locations, despite associative memory deficits present in old age.

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