Mechanisms of age-related decline in memory search across the adult life span.
Three alternative mechanisms for age-related decline in memory search have been proposed, which result from either reduced processing speed (global slowing hypothesis), overpersistence on categories (cluster-switching hypothesis), or the inability to maintain focus on local cues related to a decline in working memory (cue-maintenance hypothesis). We investigated these 3 hypotheses by formally modeling the semantic recall patterns of 185 adults between 27 to 99 years of age in the animal fluency task (Thurstone, 1938). The results indicate that people switch between global frequency-based retrieval cues and local item-based retrieval cues to navigate their semantic memory. Contrary to the global slowing hypothesis that predicts no qualitative differences in dynamic search processes and the cluster-switching hypothesis that predicts reduced switching between retrieval cues, the results indicate that as people age, they tend to switch more often between local and global cues per item recalled, supporting the cue-maintenance hypothesis. Additional support for the cue-maintenance hypothesis is provided by a negative correlation between switching and digit span scores and between switching and total items recalled, which suggests that cognitive control may be involved in cue maintenance and the effective search of memory. Overall, the results are consistent with age-related decline in memory search being a consequence of reduced cognitive control, consistent with models suggesting that working memory is related to goal perseveration and the ability to inhibit distracting information.
Hills, TT; Mata, R; Wilke, A; Samanez-Larkin, GR
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