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Value-Directed Remembering and Aging: Examination of Supporting Mechanisms and Effects on Memory Quality


Aging is associated with declines in memory performance and profound functional and structural changes in the brain, though older adult’s ability to selectively learn and retrieve valuable information appears to be well preserved. Prior research suggests that older adults differentially employ elaborative encoding strategies when encoding valuable items and selectively allocate attention to these items, as reviewed in Chapter 1. The underlying aims of the current study were to examine how this selective learning affects different aspects of memory and what cognitive and neural mechanisms may support older adult’s effective learning of valuable information.

Chapter 2 describes findings from a project aimed at determining how value-directed remembering affects different aspects of memory. This research suggests that selectively encoding valuable items is associated with greater recognition performance, higher confidence, and increased recollection in both younger and older adults. Although age-related declines in recollection are typically observed, value’s enhancement of item recollection appears to be intact in healthy aging. Selectively encoding valuable items also resulted in stronger binding between items and incidentally learned task-relevant details, perhaps at the expense of encoding extraneous details. Older adults did not demonstrate greater item-location memory for valuable items, suggesting that value’s influence on associative binding may be diminished in aging.

Chapters 3 and 4 describe two projects designed to investigate how strategic and automatic processes contribute to value-directed remembering, and whether differences in the structural integrity of white matter tracts predicts differences in older adult’s ability to selectively learn based on value. The findings of these two studies suggest that younger adults are relying on a more automatic reward circuit involving the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area, whereas older adults rely on semantic processing in the inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus (IFOF). Older adults may be relying on the IFOF in a compensatory manner. The implications of these findings for theories of aging and learning are discussed in Chapter 5.

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