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).