Attention and the acquisition of new knowledge: Their effects on older adults' associative memory deficit

Crystal M. Cooper, Timothy N. Odegard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Older adults experience a selective associative memory deficit by demonstrating intact item memory relative to impaired associative memory when compared with younger adults. Age-related deficits in associative memory have been suggested to arise from declines in attentional resources, and the role of attention during encoding and retrieval in associative memory for words and their spatial locations was investigated in the current experiment. Additionally, the tendency of younger and older adults to use knowledge acquired during encoding to improve their associative memory judgments through a strategic associative memory process was also investigated. Younger and older adults studied a list of words with each word belonging to one of four categories, which followed one of four mathematical probability structures for their presentation. Older adults exhibited intact item memory and impaired associative memory relative to full attention younger adults. In addition, both older and younger adults demonstrated an ability to engage in strategic associative memory, by learning and later using the probability structure introduced at study to guide their associative memory judgments. In contrast, dividing the attention of younger adults during encoding impaired item memory, associative memory and strategic associative memory, whereas dividing attention at retrieval did not result in similar deficits. These data add to a growing body of literature demonstrating older adults to exhibit a selective associative memory deficit that is not simulated by dividing the attention of younger adults at encoding or retrieval. Furthermore, younger and older adults maintain the ability to use new knowledge to guide their associative judgments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)890-899
Number of pages10
JournalPsychology and Aging
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Aging
  • Associative memory
  • Knowledge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


Dive into the research topics of 'Attention and the acquisition of new knowledge: Their effects on older adults' associative memory deficit'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this