Local context effects during emotional item directed forgetting in younger and older adults
This paper explored the differential sensitivity young and older adults exhibit to the local context of items entering memory. We examined trial-to-trial performance during an item directed forgetting task for positive, negative, and neutral (or baseline) words each cued as either to-be-remembered (TBR) or to-be-forgotten (TBF). This allowed us to focus on how variations in emotional valence (independent of arousal) and instruction (TBR vs. TBF) of the previous item (trial n-1) impacted memory for the current item (trial n) during encoding. Different from research showing impairing effects of emotional arousal, both age groups showed a memorial boost for stimuli when preceded by items high in positive or negative valence relative to those preceded by neutral items. This advantage was particularly prominent for neutral trial n items that followed emotional items suggesting that, regardless of age, neutral memories may be strengthened by a local context that is high in valence. A trending age difference also emerged with older adults showing greater sensitivity when encoding instructions changed between trial n-1 and n. Results are discussed in light of age-related theories of cognitive and emotional processing, highlighting the need to consider the dynamic, moment-to-moment fluctuations of these systems.
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