Attention and Memory
6.1 OVERVIEW OF INFORMATION PROCESSING Information-Processing Model • Attentional and Perceptual Processing
6.2 ATTENTIONAL CONTROL
Speed of Processing • Processing Resources • Inhibitory Loss • Attentional Resources • Discovering Development: How Good Are Your Notes? • Integration: Attention and Cognitive Change in Older Adulthood
6.3 MEMORY PROCESSES
Working Memory • Implicit versus Explicit Memory • Long-Term Memory
6.4 FACTORS AFFECTING AGE DIFFERENCES IN MEMORY
Age Differences in Encoding versus Retrieval • The Emerging Role of Automatic Retrieval • Misinformation and Memory • Current Controversies: How Do We Explain False Memories?
6.5 MEMORY FOR DISCOURSE
Text-Based Levels • Situation Models • How Do We Know? The Influence of Social Context on Memory Performance
6.6 MEMORY IN CONTEXT
Prospective Memory • Factors That Preserve Memory
6.7 SELF-EVALUATIONS OF MEMORY ABILITIES
Aspects of Memory Self-Evaluations • Age Differences in Metamemory • The Role of Memory Self-Efficacy • Age Differences in Memory Monitoring
6.8 MEMORY TRAINING
Training Memory Skills • Individual Difference Variables in Memory Training
6.9 CLINICAL ISSUES AND MEMORY TESTING Normal versus Abnormal Memory Aging • Memory and Mental Health ‘ and Drugs
SOCIAL POLICY IMPLICATIONS
Summary • Review Questions • Integrating Concepts in Development • Key Terms • Resources
JERRY LUCAS IS KNOWN FOR MANY THINGS, INCLUDING BEING A TOP BASKETBALL PLAYER IN COLLEGE AT
Ohio State University and in the pros (New York Knicks), a telecommunications professional, and of interest here, a world’s leading authority in memory training which has earned him the name Dr. Memory.
In fact he is touted as having written more material on memory training than anyone else. He has an intense dedication to having a positive impact on education. As Dr. Memory, what can he do? In front of millions of people on television he has memorized the names of up to 700 people in a television audience and an entire 100-page magazine.
What is particularly relevant to this chapter is that he has developed a business based on his "Lucas Learning System” techniques. These techniques are teachable and transferable to everyone, including the elderly. He touts that people can discover "Learning That Lasts.” This spells much optimism to the growing elderly segment of our population.
As we shall see, memory training takes on considerable importance in this chapter because memory is such a pervasive aspect of our daily lives that we take it for granted. From remembering where we keep our toothbrush to tying our shoes to timing soft-boiled eggs, memory is always with us. Moreover, it gives us a sense of identity. Imagine how frightening it would be to wake up and have no memory whatsoever—no recollection of your name, address, parents, or anything else.
Perhaps that is why we put so much value on maintaining a good memory in old age and why memory training such as that espoused by Lucas becomes so important. Society uses memory as the yardstick by which to judge whether a person’s mind is intact. Older adults are stereotyped as people whose memory is on the decline, people for whom forgetting is not to be taken lightly. Many people think that forgetting to buy a loaf of bread when one is 25 is all right, but forgetting it when one is 65 is cause for concern ("Do I have Alzheimer’s disease?”). We will see that this belief is wrong. In fact, older adults are quite adept at using strategies in their everyday life contexts to remember what they need to know.
In this chapter, we will explore cognition by focusing on both memory and attention, as they go hand in hand. In general, we will be examining how people process information from the world around them and make sense out of it. Stage theories charting information processing from lower-level processes like sensation to higher-order processing such as reasoning were once popular in memory, attention, and aging research. The goal was to try to identify where the bottleneck existed to account for the fact that older adults perform more poorly than young adults. However, cognition is a highly dynamic thing; lower-order processes such as attention help create and influence higher-order thought, and higher-order thought helps determine where we focus our attention. We need to notice things in order to build our knowledge, but what we know shapes what we notice. Thus, current research
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emphasizes changes in the qualitatively different nature in how we process information and quantitative differences in the amount of processing that occurs as we grow older. This paints a much more optimistic picture of cognitive change in the latter half of the adult life span.
Along the same lines, the study of how cognition changes as we grow older has moved from a general normative approach (e. g., overall, memory declines with age) to considering how cognition changes in light of specific domains of cognition. Whether or not we observe age-related decline in cognitive processes such as memory and attention depends upon the type of task being administered or the nature of the context in which memory is operating. Some tasks show large impairment on the part of older adults like memorizing long lists of words, whereas others show no decline or even improvement in older adulthood like remembering information that is emotionally charged or personally relevant. Thus, important questions revolve around explaining why we see such variability. In other words, we need to identify when and under what conditions age-related changes in a cognitive function are likely to be challenging for older adults.
This question brings us back to a life-span perspective. In examining laboratory research on changes in attention or memory processes that may show decline, we need to consider how this translates into the everyday cognitive functioning of older adults. In other words, what are the practical implications of changes in cognitive functioning in older adulthood? We use memory not only as an end product, but also as a means to an end. For example, we use memory when we summarize the most recent episode of our favorite soap opera, tell other people about ourselves, or reminisce about our high school days. In these situations we are using memory, but the point is not just how much we remember. More often, the idea is to facilitate social exchange, to allow other people to get to know us, or to give ourselves a shared past with others. We will return to this idea when we examine cognition in context later in the chapter.
In this chapter, we will first see how people pay attention to things, and what paying attention consists of. Next we will address some intriguing questions about memory and adult development and aging. Are there differences in the ways in which adults of different ages use memory? How would these differences affect performance on traditional memory tests? What should our criteria be for good versus poor memory? These questions are something to think about as we explore what has been discovered about aging and memory.
We will attempt to answer the questions posed by looking at memory from different vantage points. First, we will see what happens to various memory processes. Second, we will focus specifically on how we keep information stored in memory and how we get it back out. An important aspect here will be how adults use different types of strategies to help themselves remember. Third, we will look at several factors that affect memory as we grow older. Fourth, we will look at memory for discourse and see how people vary in the kinds of information they remember (e. g., prose passages and television plots). Fifth, we will consider several ways in which adults remember things in everyday contexts and the differences between these settings and the laboratory research setting. Sixth, we will examine how we use memory as a yardstick by which we judge our competence. In particular, we will consider the processes by which we evaluate our memory. Seventh, we will see how we can intervene to improve memory. Finally, we will discuss clinical issues regarding memory. Chapter 7 continues with the examination of higher-order processes such as intelligence and problem solving.
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Throughout this chapter, we will be considering results from experiments in which people made responses on computers. Although there is substantial evidence for age differences in some of the ways young and older adults process information, part of the difference may be due to cohort effects. Specifically, older adults in general are much less used to working on computers than are younger adults, making the task relatively unfamiliar to older adults. Consequently, they may not perform up to their maximum. Whether this experiential difference accounts for much or only a small amount of the age differences researchers have uncovered remains to be seen; however, given that the research is cross-sectional, meaning that age and cohort effects are confounded, this explanation remains a possibility.