University of Hertfordshire

Effects of age on autobiographical memory

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • City, University of London
  • Conway, Martin A. , Supervisor, External person
  • Poirier, Marie, Supervisor, External person
Award date26 Oct 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


Six experiments investigate the effects of healthy ageing on autobiographical memory (AM). Previous work in this area has shown that older adults exhibit a deficit in recall of specific episodes from their personal past, yet there is evidence in the literature of exceptions to this rule. As yet, there have been few replications and little systematic exploration of the factors and processes that contribute to age effects in AM. Chapter 1 begins with an examination of age differences in memory for prospectively sampled recent everyday events – an area which, despite the growing interest in AM research, has remained largely unstudied. The results showed similar event memory for younger and older adults, and demonstrated both replicability and dissociation from more typical measures of AM (Experiment 2). Subsequent investigations focused on ways of cueing AM by manipulating the need for generative retrieval processing (Chapter 3), and the effect of increasing experimental control and measuring memory for the same staged event (Chapter 4). On all other tasks older adults performed more poorly than younger adults. However, a reanalysis of the data suggested that younger adults exhibit an elderly-like deficit on measures of memory for mundane, everyday events. Moreover, analysis of semantic memory within autobiographical narratives suggested that older adults recall more temporally abstracted information than younger adults (Chapter 5). The findings are interpreted within a framework which suggests that accumulating experience drives a shift from specific episodic memory representation towards a more abstracted schematic form. A parallel line of research investigated the effect of a wearable camera, SenseCam (SC), on memory for recently experienced events (Experiments 1, 4 and 5). SC use provided a general retrieval benefit, but the effect was the same for both younger and older adults, which supports the notion that poor memory performance in older adults is related to altered memory representation rather than deficient retrieval processes.

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