Leveraging Older Adults’ Susceptibility to Distraction to Improve Memory for Face-Name Associations

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Forgetting people’s names is a common memory complaint among older adults and one that is consistent with experimental evidence of age-related decline in memory for face-name associations. Despite this difficulty intentionally forming face-name associations, a recent study demonstrated that older adults hyperbind distracting names and attended faces, which produces better learning of these face-name pairs when they reappear on a memory test (Weeks, Biss, Murphy, & Hasher, 2016). The current study explored whether this effect could be leveraged as an intervention to reduce older adults’ forgetting of face-name associations, using a method previously shown to improve older adults’ retention of a word list (Biss, Ngo, Hasher, Campbell, & Rowe, 2013). Twenty-five younger and 32 older adults studied 24 face-name pairs and were tested via immediate and delayed memory tests. During the 30-min retention interval, 10 of the face-name pairs reoccurred as distraction in an ostensibly unrelated face-judgment task, providing an opportunity to implicitly rehearse these pairs. Older adults showed reduced forgetting of repeated face-name pairs as well as improved recollection. Younger adults showed no reliable benefit. These findings indicate that useful distraction benefits older adults’ memory for face-name associations, suggesting its potential utility as a memory intervention technique.

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