Cognitive training programs that instruct specific strategies frequently show limited transfer. Open-ended approaches can achieve greater transfer, but may fail to benefit many older adults due to age deficits in self-initiated processing. We examined whether a compromise that encourages effort at encoding without an experimenter-prescribed strategy might yield better results. Older adults completed memory training under conditions that either (1) mandated a specific strategy to increase deep, associative encoding, (2) attempted to suppress such encoding by mandating rote rehearsal, or (3) encouraged time and effort toward encoding but allowed for strategy choice. The experimenter-enforced associative encoding strategy succeeded in creating integrated representations of studied items, but training-task progress was related to pre-existing ability. Independent of condition assignment, self-reported deep encoding was associated with positive training and transfer effects, suggesting that the most beneficial outcomes occur when environmental support guiding effort is provided but participants generate their own strategies.
Keywords: Aging; cognitive rehabilitation; memory; training; transfer.