Misrecollection prevents older adults from benefitting from semantic relatedness of the memoranda in associative memory.

29 Mar 2018

Memory for episodic associations declines in aging, ostensibly due to decreased recollection abilities. Accordingly, associative unitization - the encoding of associated items as one integrated entity - may potentially attenuate age-related associative deficits by enabling familiarity-based retrieval, which is relatively preserved in aging. To test this hypothesis, we induced bottom-up unitization by manipulating semantic relatedness between memoranda. Twenty-four young and 24 older adults studied pairs of object pictures that were either semantically related or unrelated. Participants subsequently discriminated between intact, recombined and new pairs. We found that semantic relatedness increased the contributions of both familiarity and recollection in young adults, but did not improve older adults' performance. Instead, they showed associative deficits, driven by increased recollection-based false recognition. This may reflect a "misrecollection" phenomenon, in which older adults make more false alarms to recombined pairs with particularly high confidence, due to poorer retrieval monitoring regarding semantically-related associative probes.