Wakeful resting and memory retention: a study with healthy older and younger adults

Cogn Process. 2019 Feb;20(1):125-131. doi: 10.1007/s10339-018-0891-4. Epub 2018 Oct 30.


Studies indicate that a brief period of wakeful rest after learning supports memory retention, whereas distraction weakens it. It is open for investigation whether advanced age has a significant effect on the impact of post-learning wakeful rest on memory retention for verbal information when compared to a cognitively demanding distraction task. In this study, we examined (1) whether post-learning rest promotes verbal memory retention in younger and older adults and (2) whether the magnitude of the rest benefit changes with increasing age. Younger adults and older adults learned and immediately recalled two consecutive word lists. After one word list, participants rested wakefully for 8 min; after the other list, they solved matrices. Memory performance was again tested in a surprise free recall test at the end of the experimental session. We found that, overall, younger adults outperformed older adults. Also, memory retention was higher following a wakeful rest phase compared to distraction. A detailed analysis revealed that this wakeful rest benefit was significant for the older adults group, whereas the younger adults group retained a similar amount of information in both post-encoding conditions. We assume that older adults can profit more from a wakeful rest phase after learning and are more prone to distraction than younger adults. With increasing age, a short break immediately after information uptake may help better retain the previously learned information, while distraction after learning tends to weaken memory retention.

Keywords: Age differences; Interference; Memory consolidation; Memory retention; Wakeful resting.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mental Recall
  • Middle Aged
  • Random Allocation
  • Rest / psychology*
  • Wakefulness / physiology*
  • Young Adult