Age effects in autobiographical memory depend on the measure

Ali Mair, Marie Poirier, Martin A. Conway, Barbara Dritschel (Editor)

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Studies examining age effects in autobiographical memory have produced inconsistent results. This study examined whether a set of typical autobiographical memory measures produced equivalent results in a single participant sample. Five memory tests (everyday memory, autobiographical memory from the past year, autobiographical memory from age 11–17, word-cued autobiographical memory, and word-list recall) were administered in a single sample of young and older adults. There was significant variance in the tests’ sensitivity to age: word-cued autobiographical memory produced the largest deficit in older adults, similar in magnitude to word-list recall. In contrast, older adults performed comparatively well on the other measures. The pattern of findings was broadly consistent with the results of previous investigations, suggesting that (1) the results of the different AM tasks are reliable, and (2) variable age effects in the autobiographical memory literature are at least partly due to the use of different tasks, which cannot be considered interchangeable measures of autobiographical memory ability. The results are also consistent with recent work dissociating measures of specificity and detail in autobiographical memory, and suggest that specificity is particularly sensitive to ageing. In contrast, detail is less sensitive to ageing, but is influenced by retention interval and event type. The extent to which retention interval and event type interact with age remains unclear; further research using specially designed autobiographical memory tasks could resolve this issue.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0259279
Number of pages21
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Early online date29 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2021


  • Research Article
  • People and places
  • Biology and life sciences
  • Social sciences
  • Medicine and health sciences


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