The effects of stereotype threat on the associative memory deficit of older adults
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT REQUEST OF AUTHOR.] One of the suggestions made in the literature regarding older adults' episodic memory decline is that it is caused by their reduced ability to bind together components of an episode and retrieve the binding (termed an associative deficit). The purpose of the current research is to assess whether the age-related associative memory deficit is at least partially mediated by stereotype threat, which has been shown to negatively affect performance on a wide variety of cognitive tasks, including memory performance of older adults. To date the effects of stereotype threat on older adults' memory performance have only been shown using tests of item memory, and between subject manipulations. The question assessed in the current research is whether older adults' associative memory will be affected by stereotype threat more than item memory, rendering it one potential factor underlying the associative deficit. To answer this question, three experiments were conducted, which used an item-associative recognition memory paradigm while manipulating stereotype threat both within and between subjects. The first two experiments attempted to establish the baseline effect by directly comparing item and associative memory in younger and older adults under induced stereotype threat, reduced stereotype threat, and no stereotype threat (i.e. control) conditions. While a baseline age-related associative deficit was not shown in the control condition, inducing stereotype threat did have a significant negative effect on older adults' associative memory performance without affecting item memory performance -- suggesting that stereotype threat does increase the age-related associative deficit. The third experiment further assessed the stage of processing -- encoding, retrieval, or both -- during which the effect of stereotype threat on older adults' memory occurs. Results showed that when stereotype threat was induced only at retrieval, memory performance was in line with performance with the reduced stereotype threat and control conditions, suggesting that this effect of stereotype threat occurs primarily during encoding of the information.
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