Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

The Effect of Age on Metamemory for Working Memory

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

The Effect of Age on Metamemory for Working Memory

Article excerpt

It has been proposed that deficits in metamemory may underlie the performance deficits shown by older adults in a variety of memory tasks. The present study examined metamemory accuracy of older adults (n = 21) and younger adults (n = 32) in a working memory task. On each of 18 trials, 6 words were presented for immediate serial recall. Recall level was predicted and postdicted, and compared with actual recall. Older adults recalled fewer words than younger adults, but both age groups showed characteristic phonological similarity and word length effects.

Metamemory accuracy was lower for older adults, who overestimated their recall performance. However, both age groups showed least accurate metamemory for phonologically similar words, and larger correlations between postdictions and recall than between predictions and recall. The results support the hypothesis that metamemory deficits in older adults may contribute to performance deficits in a working memory task.

It is commonly believed that memory declines with age. Because memory processes make an important contribution to many other cognitive processes, deterioration in memory function may underlie other cognitive decrements associated with age. Such decrements can have significant negative consequences for older adults, making it difficult to perform many daily activities. Memory failures can compromise the personal safety of older adults, and of those in their environment, and can create difficulties in the maintenance of interpersonal relationships. Understanding the changes in memory that are associated with aging is a necessary precursor to the development of strategies to counteract, or compensate for, age-related changes in memory.

A considerable body of research has addressed the issue of age related changes in memory, and has demonstrated that older adults often (but not invariably) show poorer performance in a variety of memory tasks. However, age differences are generally modest, and different types of memory seem to be affected to different degrees (Craik & Jennings, 1992; Schaie & Willis, 1996). In general, older adults show more decrements when the task is more effortful: recall is more impaired than recognition, explicit memory tasks are more impaired than implicit, and speeded tasks are more impaired than unspeeded (Craik & Jennings, 1992; Light & Albertson, 1989, Light & Singh, 1987; Rodgers & Herzog, 1987). Various explanations have been proposed to account for age related deficits in memory; the one of particular interest in the present context is the suggestion that metamemory deficits in older adults may underlie the observed memory deficits (Light, 1991).

Metamemory is a term used to describe what people know about their own memory and its functioning. Metamemory involves both an individual's knowledge about their personal attributes, memory abilities, and available memory strategies, and their perception of the memory demands of various tasks and situations (Dixon, 1989; Flavell & Wellman, 1977; Hertzog, Dixon, & Hultsch, 1990). If older adults are less able than younger adults to assess the demands of a memory task, then they may not allocate sufficient resources, or they may apply inappropriate strategies. Poor performance on a memory task could result from such strategic failures, even when memory abilities are intact. If changes in metamemory contribute to the memory deficits shown by older adults, then it may be possible to develop strategies for improving metamemory, and thus improve memory performance. Alternatively, if metamemory processes are not impaired in older adults, then it may be possible to capitalise on existing metamemory skills to alleviate the memory deficits. For these reasons, it has become important to investigate the contributions of metamemory to memory performance in older adults.

A number of studies have examined metamemory in older adults, using a variety of memory tasks and a variety of metamemory measures. …

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