The effects of aging on selectivity and control in short- term recall


The ability to control what information from our immediate environment we will retain for future use is a critical aspect of the efficient use of human memory. Although it is well known that aging impairs the ability to encode and retrieve certain types of information (see Kester, Benjamin, Castel, & Craik, 2002, for a recent review), the degree to which aging affects the strategic control of memory is less well understood. The conscious control of memory processes determines the selection of information to be remembered, how that information is perceived, and how well the information is accessed later in time. The effects of aging on the ability to control memory processes have been examined in several lines of research. Zacks, Radvansky, and Hasher (1996) used a directed forgetting paradigm, in which younger and older adults were presented with words, each of which was followed by a cue to remember or to forget that word. At the end of the list, subjects were asked to recall only the items that they were instructed to remember. Compared with younger adults, older adults recalled fewer words that they had been instructed to remember but more words that they had been instructed to forget. This finding suggests that older adults have less control over memory. Another way in which impairments of cognitive control affect older adults’ memory performance is by reducing the degree to which their memory is guided by conscious recollection. Researchers who have attempted to disentangle conscious recollection from automatic processes have shown that older adults tend to rely on automatic, or familiarity-based memory processing and that conscious recollection is reduced with age (Jacoby & Hay, 1998). This observation is consistent with results from the remember/know paradigm, in which subjects are asked to report either distinctly remembering a previously presented item (a remember response) or merely knowing that the item has been presented (a know response). The proportion of remember responses is reduced in older adults, although the proportion of know responses is either unchanged (Mäntylä, 1993) or is increased (Jacoby, Jennings, & Hay, 1996). These results suggest that older adults tend to rely on automatic processing and have more difficulty controlling memory processes than do their younger counterparts. Memory can also be controlled through the judicious use of mnemonic strategies. For example, imagery and verbal This research was supported by a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to F.I.M.C. Portions of this research were presented at the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, November 2001. Parts of this research were carried out while A.S.B. was at the Rotman Research Institute. We thank Larry Jacoby and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions regarding this manuscript. We also thank Sharyn Kreuger, Jane Logan, and Nicole Jordan for their assistance with the experiments. Correspondence should be addressed to A. Castel, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, M5S 3G3 Canada (e-mail: The effects of aging on selectivity and control in short-term recall

5 Figures and Tables

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Jacoby2003TheEO, title={The effects of aging on selectivity and control in short- term recall}, author={Larry L. Jacoby and Sharyn Kreuger}, year={2003} }