- Associative deficit hypothesis:
- Proposal that the age deficit in memory comes from an impaired capacity to form associations between previously unrelated stimuli.
- Cohort effect:
- The tendency for people born at different time periods to differ as a result of historic changes in diet, education and other social factors.
- Environmental support:
- Characteristics of a retention test that support retrieval.
- Longitudinal design:
- Method of studying development or aging whereby the same participants are successively tested at different ages.
Research activity: aging and prospective memory
How good are you at remembering to do things in the future, for example posting a letter or making a call at a certain time? Remembering things that you need to do is known as prospective memory, and some studies have shown that it declines with age. If you can, ask an older friend or relative how easy they find it to perform prospective memory tasks. Are they able to remember to do certain things more easily than others? Do they use any external memory aids to help to remember to do things in the future? Compare their answers with your own and assess whether there are any differences.
- An interview with Professor Fergus Craik.
- A video about Snowden’s (1977) nun study.
- Professor Debbie Burke talking about her research on the tip-of-the-tongue phenomena and aging.
Please find below biographies of two important researchers in the field of memory: Timothy A. Salthouse, Lars Bäckman, and Moshe Naveh-Benjamin.
Timothy A. Salthouse
Timothy Salthouse earned his Bachelor’s degree in 1969 from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He went on to receive his Master’s degree in 1971 and his Ph.D. 3 years later, both from the University of Michigan. Salthouse spent the next decade, beginning in 1976, at the University of Missouri, working his way from Assistant Professor to Professor. Between the years of 1986 and 2000, he served as Professor, then Regents Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Currently, Salthouse is the Brown-Forman Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, and the Gerontological Society of America.
Salthouse has received numerous honors and awards, including the American Psychological Association’s Division 20 Distinguished Contribution Award (1995), a William James Fellowship from the Association for Psychological Science (1998), and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for Intelligence Research (2012). Between the years of 1991 and 1996, he edited the journal Psychology and Aging. Salthouse’s paper, The processing speed theory of adult age differences in cognition, was named one of the ten most-cited articles between 1995 and 2005 in the fields of Psychology and Psychiatry.
Salthouse has been investigating how the normal aging process affects cognitive functioning. His research emphasizes both the gains (e.g., knowledge/acquired information) and the declines (e.g., processing efficiency under testing conditions) associated with aging. His lab seeks to determine which facets of cognitive functioning are compromised in old age, leading to the measured deficits, how those factors are organized, and what factors can mitigate the declines.
Importantly, Salthouse points out that the age-related influences on different cognitive variables (e.g., memory performance or reasoning abilities) likely share a common cause. He has found that one major influence on age-related changes is processing speed, which was a key tenet of his speed of processing theory of adult age differences in cognition, published in 1996.
Salthouse proposed two possible mechanisms that could result in the speed-related cognitive impairments. He suggested that certain cognitive processes are truncated midstream when processing speed is slow and time is limited. Another, non-mutually-exclusive possibility is that slow processing disrupts the synchronicity of the numerous, ongoing, cognitive operations that feed off of each other. In either case, Salthouse has provided convincing evidence that processing speed is a likely mediator through which adult age differences affect cognitive functioning. However, he recognizes that it is almost definitely not the only factor. Therefore, he recommends using a multivariate approach in order to better understand how all these factors combined affect cognitive abilities.
In the future Salthouse expects that neurobiological variables such as estimates of the volumes of brain regions from MRI, of regional brain activation patterns from functional neuroimaging, of neurotransmitter quantity, and of myelin integrity will be combined with cognitive variables to allow more comprehensive analyses of the interrelations of age-related influences on different aspects of cognitive functioning (e.g., memory or reasoning).
Salthouse, T. A. (1996). The processing speed theory of adult age differences in cognition. Psychological Review, 103, 403–428.
Salthouse, T. A. (1991). Theoretical perspectives on cognitive aging. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Salthouse, T. A., & Babcock, R. L. (1991). Decomposing adult age differences in working memory. Developmental Psychology, 27, 763–776.
Salthouse, T. A., Atkinson, T. M., & Berish, D. E. (2003). Executive functioning as a potential mediator of age-related cognitive decline in normal adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 132, 566–594.
Lars Bäckman was born on April 1, in Umeå, Sweden. He was educated at the University of Umeå for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees. His postdoctoral fellowship was completed between 1985 and 1986 at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education in Berlin. After holding a position as a research scientist at the University of Umeå’s Department of Psychology for over a year, he was named a researcher in the Department of Clinical Neuroscience and Family Medicine at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm in the geriatrics section in 1988. He was simultaneously named Director of the Stockholm Gerontology Research Center, a position he holds to this day. He has since been a member of faculty at Göteborg and Uppsala Universities and is currently Professor of Psychology and Aging at the Aging Research Center of the Karolinksa Institute in Stockholm.
Bäckman is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the European Academy of Sciences. He has published several books and close to 300 papers in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes.
Bäckman’s primary research area is cognition in normal and pathological aging, with a special focus on memory. His research activities range from large-scale epidemiological studies to experimental brain-imaging work. Major current themes include the transition from normal aging to dementia, the neural basis for cognitive plasticity across the life span, and the role of dopamine functions in cognitive aging. He has worked on the Betula Study—a prospective cohort study of memory, health, and aging—which indicated that higher levels of systolic blood pressure and pulse pressure are indicative of a greater chance of a future dementia diagnosis.
Other data collected by Bäckman and others indicate that, within demented individuals, age, gender, education, digit span, and dementia etiology surprisingly do not predict the rate of memory, visuospatial, or verbal declines. Further work has investigated the genetic effects on executive functioning and working memory.
In healthy adults, semantic memory shows minor longitudinal improvements until age 55, at which point it begins to decline, on average, though less so than does episodic memory. Further substantiating differences in the age-related trajectories of semantic and episodic memories, other studies in which Bäckman was involved, demonstrated that after controlling for background factors, age predicts episodic but not semantic memory performance.
Bäckman found, separately, that while both old and young adults benefit from working memory training, only the young group demonstrated the ability to transfer these skills to another test that taps memory updating. In this study, Bäckman used fMRI to examine functional differences between pre- and post-training on various tasks of interest, as well as control conditions. Results indicated that transfer occurs when both the trained and nontrained task recruit overlapping brain regions—in this case, the striatum.
In addition to studying the ways in which the elderly are disadvantaged, Bäckman has been investigating how individuals are able to compensate for sensory handicaps, cognitive impairments, interpersonal losses, and brain injury.
Bäckman, L., & Dixon, R. A. (1992). Psychological compensation: A theoretical framework. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 259–283.
Dahlin, E., Stigsdotter-Neely, A., Larsson, A., Bäckman, L., & Nyberg, L. (2008). Transfer of learning after updating training mediated by the striatum. Science, 320, 1510–1512.
Nilsson, L.-G., Adolfsson, R., Bäckman, L., Molander, B., & Nyberg, L. (2004). Betula: A prospective study on memory, health, and aging. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 11, 134–148.
Nyberg, L., Bäckman, L., Nilsson, L. -G., Erngrund, K., & Olofsson, U. (1996). Age differences in episodic memory, semantic memory, and priming: Relationships to demographic, intellectual, and biological factors. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 51, 234–240.
Rönnlund, M., Nyberg, L., Bäckman, L., & Nilsson, L. -G. (2005). Stability, improvement, and decline in adult life-span development of declarative memory: Cross-sectional and longitudinal data from a population-based study. Psychology and Aging, 20, 3–18.
Small, B. J., & Bäckman, L. (1998). Predictors of longitudinal changes in memory, visuospatial, and verbal performance in very old demented adults. Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, 9, 258–266.
Moshe Naveh-Benjamin was born in Jerusalem, Israel. He received his B.A. in 1976 in psychology and economics from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and his Ph.D. in experimental-cognitive psychology in 1981 from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Naveh-Benjamin joined Ben-Gurion University in Israel as a lecturer in 1981 and was promoted up to a full professor. In 2002, he joined the University of Missouri, where he serves now as a professor of psychology. He was a visiting professor at the University of Michigan (1996–1997, and summers of 1982–1997), the University of Toronto (1992–1994 and 1999–2001), the Rotman research Institute in Toronto (1999–2001), and the Max Planck Institute in Berlin (spring of 2007 and summer of 2008).
He has served as a reviewer and editorial consultant for numerous journals, as well as a guest editor for the journal Memory. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, and has received the 2008 University of Missouri Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Activity in the Social and Behavioral Sciences.
Naveh-Benjamin has been researching human memory processes and structures both in the laboratory and in real-world settings, looking at how attention contributes to encoding and retrieval processes. Additionally, he has been investigating how episodic memory abilities change in old age.
Naveh-Benjamin’s early work concentrated on how focused attention at the time of encoding can dramatically improve retention. His later work has revealed a surprising dissociation. Specifically, he found that dividing attention at retrieval doesn’t have nearly the same damaging effect it does at the time of encoding. Thus, his evidence suggests that attentional resources crucial at encoding are less necessary during retrieval. The relatively small deficit seen at retrieval when attention is divided, however, demonstrates that memory retrieval is not completely automatic.
The associative deficit framework Naveh-Benjamin proposed attempts to explain age-related changes in episodic memory, largely by the difficulties experienced by older adults in creating and retrieving associations between memories, despite having near-normal abilities in remembering the individual pieces of information. He and the members of his lab are actively engaged in testing the predictions of this hypothesis against other, competing explanations.
In order to isolate the basic components of encoding and retrieval, Naveh-Benjamin has employed online performance measures. Secondary tracking tasks permit this type of temporal micro-level analysis, as the errors on this task can then be used to predict how vulnerable memories from the primary task are to disruption (by divided attention, for instance).
Naveh-Benjamin has also been active in attempting to apply his work to educational and other real-life settings. The knowledge assessments he and his collaborators have developed allow them to track how knowledge structures change over time, depending on environmental factors and individual differences.
Naveh-Benjamin, M. (1987). Coding of spatial location information—an automatic process? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 13, 595–605.
Naveh-Benjamin, M., & Guez Y. (2000). The effects of divided attention on encoding and retrieval processes: Assessment of attentional costs and a componential analysis. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 26, 1461–1482.
Naveh-Benjamin, M. (2000). Adult-age differences in memory performance: Tests of an associative deficit hypothesis. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 26, 1170–1187.
Naveh-Benjamin, M., Craik, F. I. M., Guez, J., & Kreuger, S. (2005). Divided attention in younger and older adults: Effects of strategy and relatedness on memory performance and secondary task costs. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 32, 520–537.