Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

More Data-Driven Processing at Retrieval Reduces Age-Related Memory Deficits

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

More Data-Driven Processing at Retrieval Reduces Age-Related Memory Deficits

Article excerpt

The environmental support hypothesis postulates that it may be possible to reduce older adults' deficits in episodic memory by providing environmental support at the encoding and/or retrieval phases. To examine the validity of this hypothesis, we varied the amount of retrieval support by manipulating data-driven processes. Young and older adults performed a word-stem cued recall task under a low data-driven condition (LDDC) in which the retrieval cue comprised 3 letters, and a higher data-driven condition (HDDC) in which the cue comprised 4 letters. Older adults benefitted more than younger adults from the additional support. Older adults exhibited a large deficit relative to younger adults in the LDDC condition but no age differences were found in the HDDC condition. These findings demonstrate that age-related memory deficits can be reduced by increasing the environmental support at retrieval associated with the data-driven component of retrieval processing.

Keywords: episodic memory, aging, environmental support, data-driven processes, conceptually driven processes

A large body of literature has shown that older people exhibit poorer memory performance than younger adults (see Balota, Dolan, & Duchek, 2000; Craik & Jennings, 1992; Light, 1991; Zacks, Hasher, & Li, 2000, for reviews). One way of accounting for these age-related memory impairments has been proposed by Craik. (1983, 1986; Craik & Jennings, 1992) through the "environmental support hypothesis." According to this view, cognitive processing reflects an interaction between task-driven processes (i.e., task instructions or retrieval cues) and internal processes implemented by the subject. These self-initiated processes depend heavily on the available processing resources that decrease as people grow older (Anderson, Craik, & Naveh-Benjamin, 1998; Craik & Byrd, 1982; Craik & McDowd, 1987; Salthouse, 1982). The limited processing resources could result in difficulty for older adults to engage in appropriate encoding or retrieval processes, especially in complex conditions, which could explain age-related memory deficits (Graf & Mandler, 1984; Rabinowitz, Craik, & Ackerman, 1982). Moreover, reducing the need for self-initiated processes and thusly task complexity by providing environmental support should result in more error-free and efficient processing at encoding and retrieval, especially for older adults. Manipulating the support should result in an interaction between age and environmental support, with older adults benefitting from supportive conditions more than younger adults. Tests of the environmental support hypothesis have produced divergent results. Many different encoding conditions (e.g., when participants are guided toward semantic processing) have been found to be more supportive for older subjects (Bäckman, 1986; Cherry, Park, Frieske & Rowley, 1993; Hashtroudi, Parker, Luis, & Reisen, 1989; Jacoby, Woloshyn & Kelley, 1989; Naveh-Benjamin, 2000; Park, Cherry, Smith, & Lafronza, 1990; Park, Smith, Morrell, Puglisi, & Dudley, 1990; Rankin & Firnhaber, 1986; Rankin & Collins, 1985, 1986; Sauzéon, N'Kaoua, Lespinet, Guillem, & Claverie, 2000; Sharps & Collins, 1987; Shaw & Craik, 1989; West & Boatwright, 1983). These findings support the idea that, although older adults have difficulties in spontaneously encoding information at a deep level, they are able to implement efficient processing when the task provides sufficient guidance. However, other investigations have found that environmental support at encoding benefits young more than older adults (Bryan, Luszcz, & Pointer, 1999; Craik & Rabinowitz, 1985; Erber, Herman, & Botwinick, 1980; Light, 1991; Puglisi & Park, 1987; Rabinowitz, 1989; Taconnat et al., 2006; Taconnat & Isingrini, 2004; Treat & Reese, 1976; Verhaeghen, Marcoen, & Goossens, 1992), or benefits both age groups equally (Park, Puglisi, & Smith, 1986; Rabinowitz & Craik, 1986; Rankin & Collins, 1985; Taconnat & Isingrini, 2004). …

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