Effects of task instruction on autobiographical memory specificity in young and older adults.
Older adults tend to retrieve autobiographical information that is overly general (i.e., not restricted to a single event, termed the overgenerality effect) relative to young adults' specific memories. A vast majority of studies that have reported overgenerality effects explicitly instruct participants to retrieve specific memories, thereby requiring participants to maintain task goals, inhibit inappropriate responses, and control their memory search. Since these processes are impaired in healthy ageing, it is important to determine whether such task instructions influence the magnitude of the overgenerality effect in older adults. In the current study participants retrieved autobiographical memories during presentation of musical clips. Task instructions were manipulated to separate age-related differences in the specificity of underlying memory representations from age-related differences in following task instructions. Whereas young adults modulated memory specificity based on task demands, older adults did not. These findings suggest that reported rates of overgenerality in older adults' memories might include age-related differences in memory representation, as well as differences in task compliance. Such findings provide a better understanding of the underlying cognitive mechanisms involved in age-related changes in autobiographical memory and may also be valuable for future research examining effects of overgeneral memory on general well-being.
Ford, JH; Giovanello, KS; Rubin, DC
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