Age Differences in Collaborative Memory: The Role of Retrieval Manipulations

By Meade, Michelle L.; Roediger, Henry L. | Memory & Cognition, October 2009 | Go to article overview

Age Differences in Collaborative Memory: The Role of Retrieval Manipulations


Meade, Michelle L., Roediger, Henry L., Memory & Cognition


In two experiments, we examined age differences in collaborative inhibition (reduced recall in pairs of people, relative to pooled individuals) across repeated retrieval attempts. Younger and older adults studied categorized word lists and were then given two consecutive recall tests and a recognition test. On the first recall test, the subjects were given free-report cued recall or forced-report cued recall instructions (Experiment 1) or free recall instructions (Experiment 2) and recalled the lists either alone or in collaboration with another subject of the same age group. Free-report cued recall and free recall instructions warned the subjects not to guess, whereas forced-report cued recall instructions required them to guess. Collaborative inhibition was obtained for both younger and older adults on initial tests of free-report cued recall, forced-report cued recall, and free recall, showing that the effect generalizes across several tests for both younger and older adults. Collaborative inhibition did not persist on subsequent individual recall or recognition tests for list items. Older adults consistently falsely recalled and recognized items more than did younger adults, as had been found in previous studies. In addition, prior collaboration may exaggerate older adults' tendency toward higher false alarms on a subsequent recognition test, but only after a free recall test. The results provide generality to the phenomenon of collaborative inhibition and can be explained by invoking concepts of strategy disruption and source monitoring.

Collaborative remembering occurs when people work together to remember an event. Such remembering occurs frequently in life, as when a family remembers a vacation, or at alumni reunions when people remember the good old days of college or high school. Prior research has focused almost entirely on collaborative processes in younger adults and, to a lesser extent, similar processes in older adults. However, remarkably little research has examined age differences in collaborative processes between younger and older adults.

The purpose of the present study was to explore possible age differences in collaborative memory performance. We examined the effects of prior collaboration on performance in younger and older adults as a function of retrieval condition (type of test and type of instruction). Subjects first took a collaborative test and then, later, a test given in isolation, to ascertain whether any effects of collaboration would be removed when people were tested individually. However, before considering our new research in detail, we next will set the stage by reviewing relevant research conducted on aging and collaborative memory.

Prior research on aging and collaboration has revealed contradictory findings, ones that can be partly explained by a difference in whether collaboration is examined at the group level or the individual level (for reviews, see Dixon, 1996; Weldon, 2001). At the group level, the combined output of a collaborative group is compared with the performance of a single individual. Dixon and his colleagues (e.g., Dixon, 1996, 1999; Gould, Trevithick, & Dixon, 1991) have shown that collaboration, as measured at the group level, benefits older adults' retention for previously studied material, relative to individual performance. That is, groups of older adults perform better than individual older adults in recalling a total set of previously experienced events. Dixon has argued that the items produced by other people can act as retrieval cues, so that collaboration causes veridical performance to increase and errors to decline (Dixon, Gagnon, & Crow, 1998). The group collaborative work is important in highlighting factors related to successful collaboration and demonstrating that older adults can effectively collaborate on a task. However, the group collaborative work does not answer questions concerning the relative impact of collaboration on each individual's performance. …

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