Autobiographical memory conjunction errors in younger and older adults: Evidence for a role of inhibitory ability

Psychol Aging. 2016 Dec;31(8):927-942. doi: 10.1037/pag0000129.


Because of its reconstructive nature, autobiographical memory (AM) is subject to a range of distortions. One distortion involves the erroneous incorporation of features from one episodic memory into another, forming what are known as memory conjunction errors. Healthy aging has been associated with an enhanced susceptibility to conjunction errors for laboratory stimuli, yet it is unclear whether these findings translate to the autobiographical domain. We investigated the impact of aging on vulnerability to AM conjunction errors, and explored potential cognitive processes underlying the formation of these errors. An imagination recombination paradigm was used to elicit AM conjunction errors in young and older adults. Participants also completed a battery of neuropsychological tests targeting relational memory and inhibition ability. Consistent with findings using laboratory stimuli, older adults were more susceptible to AM conjunction errors than younger adults. However, older adults were not differentially vulnerable to the inflating effects of imagination. Individual variation in AM conjunction error vulnerability was attributable to inhibitory capacity. An inability to suppress the cumulative familiarity of individual AM details appears to contribute to the heightened formation of AM conjunction errors with age. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Young Adult