Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Effects of Aging on Interference Control in Selective Attention and Working Memory

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Effects of Aging on Interference Control in Selective Attention and Working Memory

Article excerpt

Abstract Working memory decay in advanced age has been attributed to a concurrent decrease in the ability to control interference. The present study contrasted a form of interference control in selective attention that acts upon the perception of external stimuli (access) with another form that operates on internal representations in working memory (deletion), in order to determine both of their effects on working memory efficiency in younger and older adults. Additionally, we compared memory performance under these access and deletion functions to performance in their respective control conditions. The results indicated that memory accuracy improved in both age groups from the access functions, but that only young adults benefited from the deletion functions. In addition, intrusion effects in the deletion condition were larger in older than in younger adults. The ability to control the irrelevant perception- and memory-elicited interference did not decline in general with advancing age; rather, the control mechanisms that operate on internal memory representations declined specifically.

Keywords Aging .Working memory. Selective attention . Interference control . Inhibition

Several cognitive functions depend on the ability to control interference from irrelevant external and internal stimuli that hamper the processing of information that is relevant for the task at hand. Most researchers agree that several top-down cognitive processes that depend on the prefrontal cortex control interference (see, e.g., Miller & Cohen, 2001; Nee & Jonides, 2009; West, 1996); however, there is little agreement on the specific mechanisms involved in resolving interference. Some models have proposed that inhibition is responsible for controlling interference (Anderson & Bjork, 1994; Clark, 1996; Hasher & Zacks, 1988; MacLeod, 2007). According to Hasher and Zacks, familiar stimuli initiate representations automatically, activating irrelevant information that must be suppressed or regulated via inhibition mechanisms. Other authors have proposed that accurate retrieval cues and source-monitoring processes that enhance attention toward relevant information control interference (Unsworth & Engle, 2007). The active maintenance of relevant information for goal-directed behavior is another mechanism that might control interference (Braver, Gray, & Burgess, 2007; Kane, Conway, Hambrick, & Engle, 2007).

Irrelevant external stimuli, or distractors, activate cognitive control functions in the perceptual or selective attention stages of processing, but their behavioral effects are manifested in the subsequent task for which selective attention functions are initiated. Alternatively, the interference from internal irrelevant representations activates cognitive control mechanisms in subsequent stages of processing such as working memory. Thus, memory-based internal interference occurs concurrently with working memory. The inability to control distracting percepts and memories affects working memory efficiency, because when irrelevant information is accepted into working memory and maintained, it increases competition for the limited resources or capacity of the working memory system (Conway & Engle, 1994). This competition is considered a primary cause of forgetting information (Hasher & Zacks, 1988).

In the framework proposed by Hasher, Zacks, and May (1999), interference is controlled by three inhibition-related processes: access, deletion, and restraint. Restraint stops prepotent thoughts or behavioral responses, and access and deletion operate on the information processed by different cognitive functions. Access is the inhibition function responsible for ignoring concurrent distractions, whereas deletion stops the processing of information that is no longer relevant. The conceptual distinction between access and deletion functions corresponds to the interference control mechanisms that operate in selective attention and working memory, respectively, as described above. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.