BACKGROUND/STUDY CONTEXT: Older adults exhibit an age-related deficit in item memory as a function of the length of the retention interval, but older adults and young adults usually show roughly equivalent benefits due to the spacing of item repetitions in continuous memory tasks. The current experiment investigates the seemingly paradoxical effects of retention interval and spacing in young and older adults using a continuous recognition memory procedure.
Methods: Fifty young adults and 52 older adults gave memory confidence ratings to words that were presented once (P1), twice (P2), or three times (P3), and the effects of the lag length and retention interval were assessed at P2 and at P3, respectively.
Results: Response times at P2 were disproportionately longer for older adults than for younger adults as a function of the number of items occurring between P1 and P2, suggestive of age-related loss in item memory. Ratings of confidence in memory responses revealed that older adults remembered fewer items at P2 with a high degree of certainty. Confidence ratings given at P3 suggested that young and older adults derived equivalent benefits from the spacing between P1 and P2.
Conclusion: Findings of this study support theoretical accounts that suggest that recursive reminding and/or item retrieval difficulty promote item retention in older adults.