The Role of Memory Self-Efficacy
Belief in one’s ability to accomplish things is a pervasive theme in literature, religion, psychotherapy, and many other diverse arenas (Berry, 1999; Cavanaugh & Green, 1990). As it applies to memory, belief in oneself is referred to as memory self-efficacy; it is the belief that one will be able to perform a specific task. This is an important construct in understanding how memory changes with age (Berry, 1999; Cavanaugh, 1996). Memory self-efficacy is an important type of memory belief that is distinct from general knowledge about memory because, for example, one may know a great deal about how memory works but still believe that one’s ability to perform in a specific situation is poor.
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Memory self-efficacy has emerged as one of the key aspects of metamemory due to its importance in accounting for performance in several different types of situations, as well as helping to explain how people make performance predictions in the absence of direct experience with tasks (a topic considered in the next section) (Berry, 1999; Cavanaugh, 1996). Welch and West (1995) propose that memory self-efficacy is also a key to understanding a broader array of phenomena, such as mastering the environment. Briefly, they propose that some older adults hold the assumption that memory inevitably declines with age and have experienced some age-related decreases in performance themselves. As people experience tasks or situations across adulthood that they complete successfully, their memory self-efficacy should remain strong; those who experience failure should show decrements in memory selfefficacy. These experiences should influence subsequent behavior; people who experience success may be more likely to seek out more challenging cognitive environments, whereas people experiencing failure may seek less cognitively demanding environments.
Overall, studies show that older adults with lower memory self-efficacy perform worse on memory tasks (Berry, 1999; Blatt-Eisengart & Lachman, 2004; Valentijn, Hill, Van Hooren et al., 2006; Zelinski & Gilewski, 2004). Yet older adults with low memory self-efficacy compensate for poor memory performance by using people for assistance and using compensatory strategies to aid in their memory performance (de Frias et al., 2003).