A specificity principle of memory : evidence from aging and associate memory
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The ability to remember associations among components of an event lies at the core of episodic memory (Tulving, 1983), and this ability declines with normal aging (Naveh-Benjamin, 2000). In accord with the specificity principle of memory (Surprenant & Neath, 2009), age-related declines in associative memory may occur because tasks of associative memory require individuals to retrieve specific information, which is liable to induce forgetting, and older adults may be impaired in their ability to either encode (e.g., Craik & Byrd, 1982) or retrieve specific information (Craik, 2006; Luo & Craik, 2009). Guided by this principle, we endeavored to determine whether ubiquitous age-related deficits in associative memory are restricted to specific bounded representations or extend also to the gist of associations. In two experiments, young and older adult participants (30 each in Experiment 1, 40 each in Experiment 2) studied face-scene pairs and were administered associative recognition tests following variable delays. Whereas both young and older adults could retrieve associations at gist levels of representation, older adults were impaired in their ability to retrieve more specific levels of representation. Further, in Experiment 2, we found that associations could be retrieved from multiple levels of specificity, suggesting that episodic memory might be accessed on a continuum of specificity, with age-related impairments in retrieval restricted to more specific levels.