Older adults' distractability can be used to help put a face to a name

  • A small study has used older adults’ inability to ignore irrelevant information to improve their memory for face-name pairs.

One important reason for the greater cognitive problems commonly experienced as we age, is our increasing difficulty in ignoring distracting and irrelevant information. But it may be that in some circumstances that propensity can be used to help memory.

The study involved 25 younger (17-23) and 32 older adults (60-86), who were shown the faces and names of 24 different people and told to learn them. The names were written in bright blue text and placed on the forehead, and each photo was shown for 3 seconds. After the learning session, participants were immediately tested on their recall of the name for each face. The test was self-paced. Following a 10 minute interval, during which they were given psychological tests, they were shown more photos of faces, but this time were told to ignore the text — their task was to push a button when they saw the same face appear twice in a row. The text was varied: sometimes names, sometimes words, and sometimes nonwords. Ten of the same faces and names from the first task were repeated in the series of 108 trials; all items were repeated three times (thus, 30 repeated face-name pairs; 30 other face-name pairs; 24 face-word pairs; 24 face-nonword pairs). The photos were each displayed for 1.5 seconds. A delayed memory test was given after another 10 minutes of psychological testing. A cued-recall test was followed by a forced-choice recognition test.

Unsurprisingly, overall younger adults remembered more names than older adults, and both groups remembered more on the second series, with younger adults improving more. But younger adults showed no benefit for the repeated face-name pairs, while — on the delayed recall task only — older adults did.

Interestingly, there was no sign, in either group, of repeated names being falsely recalled or recognized. Nor did they significantly affect familiarity.

It seems that this sort of inadvertent repetition doesn’t improve memory for items (faces, names), but, specifically, the face-name associations. The study builds on previous research indicating that older adults hyperbind distracting names and attended faces, which produces better learning of these face-name pairs.

It’s suggested that repetition as distraction might act as a sort of covert retrieval practice that relies on a nonconscious process specifically related to the priming of relational associations. Perhaps older adults’ vulnerability to distraction is not simply a sign of degeneration, but reflects a change of strategy to one that increases receptiveness to environmental regularities that have predictive value. Younger adults have narrowed attention that, while it allows them greater focus on the task, also stops them noticing information that is immediately irrelevant but helpful further down the track.

The researchers are working on a training program to help older adults with MCI use this benefit to better remember faces and names.

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-03/bcfg-oad031618.php

Reference: 

Biss, Renée K., Rowe, Gillian, Weeks, Jennifer C., Hasher, Lynn, Murphy, Kelly J. 2018. Leveraging older adults’ susceptibility to distraction to improve memory for face-name associations. Psychology and Aging, 33(1), 158-164.

Related News

Tau protein stabilizes structures that transport supplies from the center of the cell to the extremities, but sometimes some tau is not bound to these microtubules and instead clumps together into

A study involving genetically engineered fruit flies adds to our understanding of why sleep and bioclock disruptions are common in those with Alzheimer's disease.

A new study shows that a combination of inflammation and hypoxia activates microglia in a way that persistently weakens the connection between neurons,

A new function has been found for the

New research helps explain the role of amyloid-beta plaques in the development of Alzheimer's, by finding that the

Creating amyloid-beta requires the convergence of a protein called

A Swedish study of some 4,000 60-year-olds has found that regular “non-exercise” physical activity such as gardening or DIY significantly reduced risk of heart attack or stroke, with those who were most active on a daily basis having a 27% lower risk of a heart attack or stroke and a 30% reduced

A year-long study involving 424 sedentary, mobility-limited seniors aged 70-89, has found that variants in a specific gene (the ACE I/D gene) affect seniors’ ability to benefit from exercise.

Data from the American National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III, involving 3,659 individuals (men aged 55+; women 65+), has found that the more muscle mass older adults have, the less likely they are to die prematurely.

A four-year study involving 1,502 healthy older adults (50+) has found that the frequency of negative interactions with family members (not partners or children) and friends was associated with an increased risk of developing hypertension in women (but not in men).

Pages

Subscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest health newsSubscribe to Latest news