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Effects of Age- Related Stereotype Threat on Memory and Executive Function

  • Author(s): Fourquet, Natasha Y.
  • Advisor(s): Knowlton, Barbara J
  • et al.
Abstract

Recall performance is greatly affected when older adults are presented with stereotype threat regarding memory (See Lamont et al., 2015 for a review). Stereotype threat is a concern that one’s performance will confirm negative stereotypes about one’s group. In Study 1 (Chapter 2), we examined the effect of threat on metamemory processes and memory selectivity for high value information. Our findings showed that threat affected calibration (i.e., bets-recall, p=.045) and total score (p=.03), both which require metacognitive control. Our threat manipulation did not affect value. That is, both groups placed bets and recalled more high-value words than low and medium value words (p>.05). Metacognition goes hand in hand with executive control, thus it is possible that threat burdened both cognitive processes. Moreover, the effect of value was stronger than that of threat.

In Study 2 (Chapter 3), we were interested in testing the effect of threat when the manipulation was done after encoding (i.e., prior to retrieval). We found no differences across groups in free recall or cued recall with this manipulation. However, we cannot refute the plausible effect of threat on retrieval given differences in experimental conditions (i.e., encoding time) between the current study and previous research. Taken together, our results provide partial support for executive function (See Chapter 2) as a possible mechanism of stereotype threat’s effect on memory performance.

We were interested in contributing to the growing body of literature on the cognitive mechanisms that underlie this disruption in performance. Study 3 (Chapter 4) aimed to assess the effect of different types of threat on executive function. Older adults were assigned to one of three conditions: a neutral, memory threat, or processing speed threat condition. Participants completed a task-switching paradigm, in which global, local, and alternating switch costs were examined. Reaction time and accuracy were used as dependent measures. Overall, participants displayed a pattern of performance that is consistent with the task switching literature. That is, older adults showed global and local switch costs (e.g., Mayr, 2001). Participants in the memory threat condition did not differ greatly from those in the neutral condition, while participants in the processing speed threat condition were significantly faster than the other two groups, (p=.03). We did not observe an interaction between trial type and group for local switch costs (p>.05). Group differences only emerged for global switch trials. It is possible that our processing speed threat manipulation may have prompted a reminder about the objective of the task. Taken together, incorporating value-based tasks into neuropsychological assessments would provide an improved objective measure of memory performance. Also, as suggested by Study 3 deemphasizing memory prior to a task of executive function may improve performance.

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