Visual Short-Term Memory Through the Lifespan: Preserved Benefits of Context and Metacognition


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Abstract

Visual short-term memory (VSTM) ability falls throughout the life span in healthy adults. Using a continuous report task, in a large, population-based sample, we first confirmed that this decline affects the quality and quantity of reported memories as well as knowledge of which item went where. Visual and sensorimotor precision also worsened with advancing age, but this did not account for the reduced memory performance. We then considered two strategies that older individuals might be able to adopt, to offset these memory declines: the use of contextual encoding, and metacognitive monitoring of performance. Context and metacognitive awareness were both associated with significantly better performance, however these effects did not interact with age in our sample. This suggests that older adults retain their capacity to boost memory performance through attention to external context and monitoring of their performance. Strategies that focus on taking advantage of these preserved abilities may therefore help to maintain VSTM performance with advancing age. The article reports on analysis of the Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience (Cam-CAN) data.

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