Another approach to identifying conditions under which social facilitation of cognition in older adults occurs is in examining contextual variables that influence memory performance. For example, Cynthia Adams argues that memory performance is influenced when the task approximates a real – world learning and social memory experience (Adams et al., 2002). In this case, what happens to memory performance when the assessment situa­tion approximates the kinds of memory demands that naturally occur in a real-life situation?

For example, a typical and relevant cognitive task for older adults is to transmit sociocultural information to younger generations (Adams et al.,

1994) . In this context, the older adult would be motivated to communicate effectively. A storytell­ing situation is a good example. This kind of context is very different from the traditional laboratory context, in which the demand is to reproduce as much of the content of a text as possible. Adams et al. (2002) found that when they placed older adults in a storytelling situation in which they were asked to learn and retell a story from memory to a young child, their retellings of the story contained more detail and were more fluent than those of younger adults. Perhaps this superior performance stems from increased motivation in a social context where their concerns were directed at producing an interesting and coherent story for the child. This is a demonstration of how the social-communicative context or experience can enhance what is most salient to the individual. Again, this finding illus­trates the importance of taking into consideration the social context of a task situation when exam­ining change in cognitive functioning as we grow older.

Concept Checks

1. What is collaborative cognition?

2. What is a social-communicative context?

Social Cognition 309