The Emerging Role of Automatic Retrieval
Larry Jacoby and his colleagues (Hay & Jacoby, 1999; Jacoby, 1991; Yonelinas, 2002) found that memory situations involve both automatic and deliberate retrieval processes. They used a clever procedure called the “process-dissociation paradigm” to separate out the different contributions of each of these two types of processes in a memory task. To illustrate, Jacoby and colleagues conducted a series of studies examining the “false-fame” effect (Dywan & Jacoby, 1990; Jennings & Jacoby, 1993). In a typical study, older and younger adults were asked to first read a list of nonfamous names. Then they were given a new list consisting of three types of names: names from the first list, additional new nonfamous names, and moderately famous names. Participants were asked to indicate which of the names presented were famous. They were also told that the names on the original list were nonfamous. If they were to recognize any names from that list, they should exclude them from further consideration.
The false-fame effect results when a previously observed nonfamous name (on the original list) is mistakenly identified as a famous name at testing. What happens is this: Studying the original nonfamous names increases their familiarity, so when people see this name again and they do not consciously recollect that it was on the original list, they will produce the false-fame effect, in other words, mistake familiarity for fame. Dywan and Jacoby (1990)
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found that older adults produced a larger false-fame effect than young adults did. In a subsequent study, Jennings and Jacoby (1993) added another condition: Adults were told that the names from the original list were actually obscure famous names, so if one looked familiar at testing, it would be appropriate to label it as famous whether or not they consciously recollected it. The first experiment assessed how conscious recollection affects memory, and the second study assessed how familiarity affects memory.
Overall, the assessment of conscious recollection was lower for older adults than for younger adults, but the assessment for automatic retrieval (in this case familiarity testing) in the second study did not differ across age groups. Thus, although conscious recollection is impaired as suggested earlier in this chapter; automatic retrieval of familiar information is spared. Jacoby and colleagues suggest that difficulties in recollection on the part of older adults are largely a function of an inability during retrieval to access the details of an episode and may account for situations where older adults display memory problems. This idea relates back to our distinction between implicit and explicit memory as well as episodic and semantic memory. Both implicit and semantic memory tasks do not require such detailed conscious recollection of information; therefore, researchers have not seen poor performance on the part of older adults in these areas.