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Local context effects during emotional item directed forgetting in younger and older adults

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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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Keywords: Local context; ageing; directed forgetting; emotional memory; valence

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada 2: School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Falmer, UK

Publication date: September 14, 2017

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