Searching for the past: Exploring the dynamics of direct and generative autobiographical memory reconstruction among young and cognitively normal older adults

Aubrey A. Wank, Jessica R. Andrews-Hanna, Matthew D. Grilli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Episodic autobiographical memories (EAMs) can come to mind through two retrieval routes, one direct (i.e., an EAM is retrieved almost instantaneously) and the other generative (i.e., by using autobiographical/general knowledge to cue an EAM). It is well established that normal cognitive aging is associated with a reduction in the retrieval of EAMs, but the contributions of direct or generative reconstruction to the age-related shift toward general memories remain unknown. Prior studies also have not clarified whether similar cognitive mechanisms facilitate the ability to successfully reconstruct EAMs and elaborate them in event-specific detail. To address these gaps in knowledge, young and older participants were asked to reconstruct EAMs using a “think-aloud” paradigm and then describe in detail a subset of retrieved memories. An adapted scoring procedure was implemented to categorize memories accessed during reconstruction, and the Autobiographical Interview (AI) scoring procedure was utilized for elaboration scoring. Results indicated that in comparison with young adults, older adults not only engaged in direct retrieval less often than young adults but they also more often ended generative retrieval at general events instead of EAMs. The ability to elaborate EAMs with internal details was positively associated with the ability to use generative retrieval to reconstruct EAMs in both young and older adults, but there was no relationship between internal detail elaboration and direct retrieval in either age group. Taken together, these results indicate age-related differences in direct and generative retrieval contribute to overgeneral autobiographical memory and they support a connection between generative retrieval and elaboration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMemory and Cognition
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2020

Keywords

  • Aging
  • Autobiographical memory
  • Direct retrieval
  • Episodic memory
  • Generative retrieval

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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