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The Influence of Subjective Value, Importance, and Interest on Memory and Metacognition in Older and Younger Adults

  • Author(s): McGillivray, Shannon Elizabeth
  • Advisor(s): Castel, Alan D
  • et al.

It is well documented that memory abilities decline in older adulthood. However, age-related memory deficits may be reduced for information that is more interesting or valuable. Using a variety of unique approaches, the current studies examined whether subjective value and interest impacted memory and metacognitive judgments (i.e., predictions about what one will remember) in older and younger adults in order to better understand mechanisms that enhance memory and metacognitive accuracy.

Experiments 1, 2, and 3 utilized a paradigm in which older and younger adults were presented with lists of words, word pairs, or items within specific scenarios. For each item, participants assigned it a value (from 0-10) that was akin to a "bet" on the likelihood it would be remembered. The results indicated that older and younger adults were equally able to remember items assigned higher values, and that accuracy of predictions increased with task experience. Furthermore, when participants were able to rely on semantic knowledge, age-related differences in memory performance were eliminated.

Experiments 4 and 5 examined whether subjective interest and curiosity to learn influenced memory and metacognitive predictions in older and younger adults. In Experiments 4 and 5, participants were presented with trivia questions and asked to indicate how "curious" they were to learn the answer, after which they were shown the correct answer. In Experiment 5 participants also provided post-answer interest ratings and predictions of the likelihood the fact would be remembered. After a week delay, older and younger adults were more likely to recall answers to questions initially assigned higher ratings of curiosity and interest. Furthermore, predictions regarding what information would be recalled were highly accurate for both younger and older adults, and were influenced by interest in the material.

The results of all of the studies suggest that the ability to recall what one subjectively indicates is more valuable or interesting does not decline during the aging process. Furthermore, both younger and older adults displayed highly accurate insight regarding what information was likely to be remembered or forgotten, and they were able to use this knowledge to strategically maximize goal-related memory outcomes and performance.

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