An analysis of adult age-related differences in episodic memory : understanding and differentiating production and utilization of strategies
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Age-related differences in strategy production and utilization in forming an episodic memory were explored. In Experiment 1, 51 younger adults (ages 18 – 25) and 47 older adults (ages 64 – 77) were asked to study a serial, random list of 20 taxonomic words, presented in the center of a computer screen for a delayed (30 s) recall test. Participants were either given explicit instructions on how to use a categorical strategy to study the words or received no instructions. All participants were asked to verbalize both their study and recall processes, which were tape-recorded. Younger adults outperformed older adults in the production of strategy elements, implementation of the strategy, and recall. However, when assessments were made for only those participants who implemented the categorical strategy no age-related differences occurred in the extent to which the strategy was produced but for some conditions differences were evident in how effectively the strategy was utilized. In Experiment 2, 45 younger adults (ages 18 – 21) and 43 older adults (ages 62 – 78) were presented with the same word lists as in Experiment 1. However, words were presented in one of four locations on the computer screen. Words either appeared in the same location as other same-category words or randomly in one of the four locations. Again, a verbal protocol was used. Similar findings as Experiment 1 were found, except older adults were not able to utilize the strategy efficiently in any condition and older adults recalled more words in Experiment 2 than Experiment 1. Consequently, the findings demonstrate that categorical strategy use involves both the production of the strategy and its utilization and that some of the age-related differences in episodic memory can be attributed to aspects of strategy production such as rehearsal activity levels and strategy implementation, in addition to effective strategy utilization and elements of environmental support, but not the inability of older adults to execute the appropriate strategy once implemented. Moreover, the studies illuminate the criticality of the measurements that are used to assess production and utilization.