Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Low Perceived Control as a Risk Factor for Episodic Memory: The Mediational Role of Anxiety and Task Interference

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Low Perceived Control as a Risk Factor for Episodic Memory: The Mediational Role of Anxiety and Task Interference

Article excerpt

Abstract Low perceived control is considered a risk factor for poor cognitive functioning, but the mechanisms are unclear. The goal of the present study was to analyze anxiety and task interference as sequential mediators of the association between control beliefs and episodic memory. Cognitive-specific control beliefs were assessed prior to the lab session. State anxiety was assessed in the lab, followed by a word list recall task. The frequency of intrusive thoughts during the memory task was reported by the participants as a measure of task interference after the completion of the cognitive testing. The results for 152 participants from the ages of 22 to 84 years supported the predicted three-path mediation model. Lower levels of control beliefs were associated with higher state anxiety, which in turn affected episodic memory performance by increasing the likelihood of task interference, with age, sex, and verbal abilities as covariates. The implications of the results for developing interventions to improve memory performance are considered.

Keywords Memory. Interference/inhibition in memory retrieval . Perceived control . Anxiety

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Although aging is commonly associated with memory problems, there is robust evidence for individual differences in memory performance in middle and later adulthood (Hertzog, Kramer, Wilson, & Lindenberger, 2008; Salthouse, 2009). Recently, studies have focused on identifying modifiable factors that can account for these individual differences, with a goal of designing preventative and remedial interventions. One such promising factor, personal control beliefs, has been found to play a central role in maintaining and optimizing cognitive health in adulthood and old age (Hertzog et al., 2008; Krause, 2007; Lachman, Andreoletti, & Pearman, 2006; Rowe & Kahn, 1998; Windsor & Anstey, 2008). Those who believe that they can engage in behaviors in order to maintain or improve their cognitive functioning, even in the face of losses and declines, show higher levels of memory performance (Lachman, Neupert, & Agrigoroaei, 2011). Nevertheless, only a small number of studies have focused on identifying the mechanisms relating control beliefs to memory. Understanding the processes whereby beliefs about control have an impact on memory performance can provide valuable information for identifying sources of memory problems and developing strategies and treatments to improve memory at all ages.

In the present study, we focused on whether anxiety associated with the evaluative testing situation and internal cognitive task interference (mind wandering) operate as sequential mediators linking control beliefs to memory performance. We present and integrate the existing findings and theoretical models regarding the direct and indirect associations between control beliefs, anxiety, task interference, and memory performance.

Control beliefs and memory performance

Several cross-sectional studies have shown that higher perceived control is tied to better memory, especially among older adults (e.g., Hertzog, McGuire, & Lineweaver, 1998; Seeman, McAvay, Merrill, Albert, & Rodin, 1996; Valentijn et al., 2006). Longitudinal research has shown a similar pattern in that low control beliefs were related to greater declines in cognitive functioning over 20 years (Caplan & Schooler, 2003), and increases in control beliefs were associated with better episodic memory performance (Windsor & Anstey, 2008).

Mechanisms linking control beliefs and memory performance

Control beliefs may have behavioral, motivational, cognitive, affective, and physiological consequences, which in turn have an impact on a large spectrum of age-related outcomes, such as cognitive performance and physical health (Lachman et al., 2011; Miller & Lachman, 1999). A sense of control is a fundamental core set of self-regulatory beliefs that affects how situations are perceived and provides motivation for whether or not to exert effort or attempt new tasks (Bandura, 1997). …

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