Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Effects of Emotional Arousal and Gender on the Associative Memory Deficit of Older Adults

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Effects of Emotional Arousal and Gender on the Associative Memory Deficit of Older Adults

Article excerpt

Abstract In this study we assessed the potential moderating roles of stimulus type (emotionally arousing) and participants' characteristics (gender) in older adults' associative memory deficit. In two experiments, young and older participants studied lists that included neutral and emotionally arousing word pairs (positive and negative) and completed recognition tests for the words and their associations. In Experiment 1, the majority of the word pairs were composed of two nouns, whereas in Experiment 2 they were composed of adjective-noun pairs. The results extend evidence for older adults' associative deficit and suggest that older and younger adults' item memory is improved for emotionally arousing words. However, associative memory for the word pairs did not benefit (and even showed a slight decline) from emotionally arousing words, which was the case for both younger and older adults. In addition, in these experiments, gender appeared to moderate the associative deficit of older adults, with older males but not females demonstrating this deficit.

Keywords Aging . Episodicmemory. Associativememory . Gender . Arousal

One issue that continues to pervade aging research is the problem of fully explaining why episodic memory declines across the lifespan. It is essential to understand the nature of this decline in order to help older adults maintain functionality throughout their lives. Previous work has suggested a number of contributing factors to this episodic memory decline, including deficits in semantic processing, metamemory, and deliberate recollection (see Light, 1991). Other theories have suggested that episodic memory problems may be the result of global declines in functions such as processing speed (Salthouse, 1996), attentional resources (Craik, 1983, 1986), or inhibitory control (Hasher & Zacks, 1988) that have broader consequences for cognition.

Of particular interest in the present study is the reduced ability in later adulthood to properly bind and associate items at encoding and to retrieve those associations at a later time, suggested as one potential mechanism underlying age-related episodic memory decline (e.g., Chalfonte & Johnson, 1996; Naveh-Benjamin, 2000; Old & Naveh-Benjamin, 2008a). The aims of the present study were to assess the effect of emotional arousal on the associative-binding deficit of older adults and to consider potential gender differences that may exist in older adults' associative memory. Each of these issues will be addressed in turn.

Associative-binding deficit and episodic memory in aging

Chalfonte and Johnson (1996) investigated memory for complex events and their individual features in young and older adults. Their results showed a disproportionate decline in the older adult group for memories involving the binding of stimulus features (a picture, its color, and its location) relative to the decline in memory for each separate feature. This finding is in line with Naveh-Benjamin's (2000) associative-deficit hypothesis, which claims that a central factor in episodic memory decline across the lifespan is the inability to adequately bind elements of an event at encoding and to retrieve the bound event at a later time.

Support for the associative deficit (AD) has accumulated through several studies utilizing a wide range of stimuli. First, the AD has been documented with both intraitem stimuli, such as single words presented in various fonts or colors, as well as interitem stimuli, such as two words paired together (Castel & Craik, 2003; Light, Patterson, Chung, & Healy, 2004; Naveh-Benjamin, 2000). Thus, the AD is not simply a failure to link two separate objects, but also an inability to bind together relevant features of a single object (see also face-spatial location pairs: Bastin & Van der Linden, 2006). Naveh-Benjamin, Hussain, Guez, and Bar- On (2003) have also demonstrated an AD in older adults with the use of picture pairs (Exp. …

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