Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Does the Greater Involvement of Executive Control in Memory with Age Act as a Compensatory Mechanism?

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Does the Greater Involvement of Executive Control in Memory with Age Act as a Compensatory Mechanism?

Article excerpt

Recent behavioural and imaging data have shown that memory functioning seems to rely more on executive functions and on the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in older than in young adults. Using a behavioural approach, our objective was to confirm the hypothesis that young and older adults present different patterns of correlation between episodic memory performance and executive functioning. We report three studies comparing the correlations of young and older adults in a broad range of episodic memory and executive function tasks. The results indicated that memory and executive performance were consistently and significantly correlated in older but not in younger adults. Regression analyses confirmed that age-related differences in episodic memory performance could be explained by individual differences in executive functioning. The results are consistent with the view that memory functioning in aging is accompanied by a shift from automatic to controlled forms of processing. They also generalise the executive hypothesis of episodic memory aging and are in line with the idea that executive functions act as a compensatory mechanism against age-related memory decline.

Keywords: aging, episodic memory, executive functions

Studies in the aging literature have consistently reported a decline in episodic memory abilities with increasing age (for reviews, see Balota, Dolan, & Duchek, 2000; Craik & Jennings, 1992; McDaniel, Einstein, & Jacoby, 2008). Episodic memory is defined as the type of memory that enables conscious recollection of personal happenings and events from the past (Wheeler, Stuss, & Tulving, 1997). It is classically assessed by free-recall, cuedrecall, and recognition tasks. Age-related differences in episodic memory are not uniform across tasks and are particularly pronounced in tasks thought to be more resource-dependent, such as free-recall or cued-recall tasks that require previously studied information to be retrieved with or without a cue (e.g., a fragment of the target item), in contrast to recognition tasks in which previously presented items have to be identified among new items (Craik & McDowd, 1987).

A current issue in the aging literature concerns the interpretation of data from cognitive (Bouazzaoui et al., 2012; Glisky & Kong, 2008) and functional neuroimaging (Park & Reuter-Lorenz, 2009) studies. Evidence suggests that older adults must engage in effortful executive processing dependent on the prefrontal cortex to carry out cognitive operations that younger adults perform with relative ease. Executive functioning is widely considered to be a major factor underlying the age-related decline in the episodic memory performance of healthy elderly people. This hypothesis is based on the assumption that the age-related decline in memory functions is mainly due to a selective decline in executive functioning associated with the prefrontal cortex (PFC; Anderson & Craik, 2000; Braver & West, 2008; Dennis & Cabeza, 2008; Luszcz & Lane, 2008; West, 1996). Regarding memory, the PFC is traditionally viewed as an executive supervisor sustaining encoding and retrieval processes (Moscovitch & Winocur, 1992). Executive functions are classically defined as a set of cognitive processes encompassing a wide variety of control abilities (Elliott, 2003). These mechanisms can be viewed as supporting the generation of memory strategy processes, such as focusing and maintaining attention on abstract representations, in order to generate sequences of complex memory goals, and to implement deep encoding processes or appropriate retrieval processes in relation to the encoding processes (Bouazzaoui et al., 2010; Bryan, Luszcz, & Pointer, 1999; Moscovitch & Winocur, 1992; Shimamura, 1995; Taconnat et al., 2006; Taconnat, Clarys, Vanneste, Bouazzaoui, & Isingrini, 2007; Taconnat et al., 2009). Only a few behavioural studies have directly confirmed that age-related differences in episodic memory are significantly mediated by individual differences in executive functioning (Baudouin, Clarys, Vanneste, & Isingrini, 2009; Bugaiska et al. …

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