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Back to the Future: Past and Future Era-Based Schematic Support and Associative Memory for Prices in Younger and Older Adults

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Older adults typically display various associative memory deficits, but these deficits can be reduced when conditions allow for the use of prior knowledge or schematic support. To determine how era-specific schematic support and future simulation might influence associative memory, we examined how younger and older adults remember prices from the past as well as the future. Younger and older adults were asked to imagine the past or future, and then studied items and prices from approximately 40 years ago (market value prices from the 1970s) or 40 years in the future. In Experiment 1, all items were common items (e.g., movie ticket, coffee) and the associated prices reflected the era in question, whereas in Experiment 2, some item-price pairs were specific to the time period (e.g., typewriter, robot maid), to test different degrees of schematic support. After studying the pairs, participants were shown each item and asked to recall the associated price. In both experiments, older adults showed similar performance as younger adults in the past condition for the common items, whereas age-related differences were greater in the future condition and for the era-specific items. The findings suggest that in order for schematic support to be effective, recent (and not simply remote) experience is needed in order to enhance memory. Thus, whereas older adults can benefit from "turning back the clock," younger adults better remember future-oriented information compared with older adults, outlining age-related similarities and differences in associative memory and the efficient use of past and future-based schematic support.

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