Age Differences in Autobiographical Memory Specificity: It’s Not Just About Cognition
Lisa Emery & Meagan Griffin
INTRODUCTION
RESULTS
Previous research has found that older adults have
reduced specificity of autobiographical memory, a finding
that has primarily been attributed to age differences in
associative memory and/or executive function (e.g.,
Addis, Wong, & Schacter, 2008; Piolino et al. 2010).
Research in the clinical psychology literature, however,
suggests that reduced autobiographical memory
specificity can also result from emotion regulation
strategies such as functional avoidance (Williams et al.,
2007). Because older adults are thought to avoid retrieval
of negative memories (e.g., Mather & Carstensen, 2005),
we investigated whether age differences in emotion
regulation strategies also influenced memory specificity.
Participant Characteristics
Conclusions
Young
M(SD)
10.5 (1.6)
Old
M(SD)
11.7 (3.3)
38.2 (9.0)
28.78 (12.0)
10.2 (2.23)
11.7 (2.8)
20.7 (4.4)
19.8 (5.7)
• Age differences in autobiographical memory specificity
were influenced by both associative memory and use
of active coping strategies. These effects were
independent of each other, and together accounted
for nearly all the age-related variance in specificity.
• There were no age differences in avoidant coping, and
contrary to the functional avoidance hypothesis,
avoidant coping did not influence memory specificity.
• Overall, this suggests that age differences in affective
processes combine with age differences in cognitive
processes to influence autobiographical memory
retrieval.
Matrix Reasoning
(Scaled)
Verbal Paired
Associates (Raw)**
Active Coping*
Avoidant Coping
CONCLUSIONS & FUTURE DIRECTIONS
Average Specificity** 2.23 (0.4)
1.7 (0.5)
* Age difference significant at p < .05
** Age difference significant at p < .01
METHOD
Correlations
1.
Participants
• 28 young adults (Ages 18-25; M = 19.3, SD = 1.7)
• 29 older adults (Ages 64-85; M = 73.3, SD = 7.1)
• Data collected as part of another study (see poster
by Burkett et al.)
• Participants were screened for cognitive problems
using the Short Blessed
• Specificity coding was not yet available for all
participants
Measures
• Cue-word autobiographical memory test; responses
coded for specificity on a scale of 0-3
• WAIS-IV matrix reasoning
• WMS-IV verbal paired associates
• Modified version of the COPE (Carver et al., 1989)
• Active coping questions
“I take additional action to try to get rid of the
problem”
• Avoidant coping questions (combo. of
mental avoidance, behavioral avoidance,
and denial)
“I pretend that it hasn’t really happened”
Limitations/Future Directions
2.
1. Age
-
2. VPA (Raw)
-.41 -
3. Active Coping
.29 -.18 -
3.
4.
5.
4. Avoidant Coping
-.10 -.18 -.22 Path Analysis
5. Average Specificity
-.53 .49 -.52 -.04 -
• Why does active coping result in reduced memory
specificity? (e.g., perhaps focusing attention on solving
the problem instead of dwelling on memory of it).
• Avoidant coping questions from COPE don’t quite
capture “functional avoidance” as defined by Williams
et al. (2007). (e.g., “Truncated search” of memory to
avoid negative affect from recall of unpleasant events)
REFERENCES
Path Analysis
-.41
Verbal
Paired
Associates
-.17 (n.s.)
Age
+.29
Active
Coping
+.30
Memory
Specificity
-.45
Addis, D. R., Wong, A. T., & Schacter, D. L. (2008). Age-related changes in the
episodic simulation of future events. Psychological Science, 19(1), 33-41.
Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Weintraub, J. K. (1989). Assessing coping
strategies: A theoretically based approach. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 56, 267-283.
Mather, M., & Carstensen, L. L. (2005). Aging and motivated cognition: The
positivity effect in attention and memory. Trends in cognitive sciences, 9(10),
496-502.
Piolino, P., Coste, C., Martinelli, P., Macé, A. L., Quinette, P., Guillery-Girard, B., &
Belleville, S. (2010). Reduced specificity of autobiographical memory and aging:
Do the executive and feature binding functions of working memory have a
role?. Neuropsychologia, 48(2), 429-440.
Williams, J. M. G., Barnhofer, T., Crane, C., Herman, D., Raes, F., Watkins, E., &
Dalgleish, T. (2007). Autobiographical memory specificity and emotional
disorder. Psychological bulletin, 133(1), 122.
Reprints may be obtained at agelabs.appstate.edu
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Age Differences in Autobiographical Memory Specificity: It`s Not Just