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Modifying memory for a museum tour in older adults: Reactivation-related updating that enhances and distorts memory is reduced in ageing

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Memory reactivation, the activation of a latent memory trace when we are reminded of a past experience, strengthens memory but can also contribute to distortions if new information present during reactivation is integrated with existing memory. In a previous study in young adults we found that the quality of memory reactivation, manipulated using the principle of encoding specificity and indexed by recollection ratings, modulated subsequent true and false memories for events experienced during a museum tour. Here in this study, we examined age-related changes in the quality of memory reactivation on subsequent memory. Memories of museum stops in young and older adults were reactivated and then immediately followed by the presentation of a novel lure photo from an alternate tour version (i.e., reactivation plus new information). There was an increase in subsequent true memories for reactivated targets and for subsequent false memories for lures that followed reactivated targets, when compared to baseline target and lure photos. However, the influence of reactivation on subsequent memories was reduced in older adults. These data reveal that ageing alters reactivation-related updating processes that allow memories to be strengthened and updated with new information, consequently reducing memory distortions in older adults compared to young adults.
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Keywords: Ageing; Autobiographical memory; Episodic memory; False memory; Reactivation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

Publication date: August 18, 2015

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