The effect of increased memory cue duration on directed forgetting performance in healthy aging

Open Access
Allen, Courtney Marie
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Nancy Anne Coulter Dennis, Thesis Supervisor
  • Richard Alan Carlson, Honors Advisor
  • Richard Alan Carlson, Faculty Reader
  • Directed Forgetting
  • Intentional Forgetting
  • Aging
  • Processing Speed
  • Differential Encoding
  • Inhibition
  • Variability
Although forgetting is usually seen as a memory error, forgetting can actually be an adaptive strategy to manage information in a changing world. A lot of information is important to remember temporarily, such as a parking space at the supermarket, or a dosage of medication. However, later remembering of such outdated information detracts from valuable cognitive resources. Therefore, the brain has cognitive mechanisms in place to expunge once-important information that is now irrelevant, a process called directed forgetting. However, many cognitive control processes, such as directed forgetting, decline with age. To investigate this phenomenon, typical directed forgetting paradigms examine memory for items associated with a memory cue, a signal that instructs participants to either ‘remember’ or ‘forget’ an item. Success in this paradigm is indicated through memory compliance – participants later recollect items that were previously associated with a ‘remember’ cue and forget items associated with a ‘forget’ cue. Previous research indicates that manipulating the memory cue may enhance the differential encoding and inhibition mechanisms, which contribute to successful memory compliance, in both young (18-30 years) and, more importantly, older (60-85 years) adults. Thus, this study examines the impact of increasing memory cue duration (one, three, and five seconds) on young adult and older adult participants’ memory compliance using an item-method directed forgetting paradigm. The eventual goal is to discover strategies that can be employed to enhance memory and cognitive control in aging, compensating for typical age-related cognitive declines. Results indicate that increased processing time improves directed forgetting performance in both young and older populations. Although no significant age-related deficits in directed forgetting were observed between the two age groups (young and older adults), subsequent analyses revealed a significant relationship between older adults’ level of cognitive functioning and directed forgetting performance. Furthermore, the expected age-related directed forgetting deficit also emerged in these analyses. In conclusion, this project indicates the importance of characterizing older adults’ individual differences in cognitive aging research. In order to elucidate what can be done to preserve cognitive functioning in healthy aging, it is important to investigate why certain populations of older adults do not display expected age-related memory deficits.