Normal aging and prospective memory

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 1990 Jul;16(4):717-26. doi: 10.1037//0278-7393.16.4.717.


We develop a laboratory paradigm for studying prospective memory and examine whether or not this type of memory is especially difficult for the elderly. In two experiments, young and old subjects were given a prospective memory test (they were asked to perform an action when a target event occurred) and three tests of retrospective memory (short-term memory, free recall, and recognition). From the perspective that aging disrupts mainly self-initiated retrieval processes, large age-related decrements in prospective memory were anticipated. However, despite showing reliable age differences on retrospective memory tests, both experiments showed no age deficits in prospective memory. Moreover, regression analyses produced no reliable relation between the prospective and retrospective memory tasks. Also, the experiments showed that external aids and unfamiliar target events benefit prospective memory performance. These results suggest some basic differences between prospective and retrospective memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attention
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Mental Recall*
  • Retention, Psychology*
  • Set, Psychology