Self-initiated spatial working memory in young and older adults
The age-related decline in working memory (WM) has been studied extensively. Yet, research has focused mainly on one aspect of memory, in which older adults memorised information provided to them, neglecting the frequent everyday behaviour in which memory is self-initiated (SI), meaning that individuals memorise information they selected themselves. The present study used a modified spatial span task in which young and older adults memorised spatial sequences they constructed themselves, or random sequences provided to them. The results revealed that young and older adults carefully planned and constructed structured spatial sequences, by minimising distances between successive locations, and by selecting sequences with fewer path crossings and with more linear shapes. Older adults constructed sequences that were even more structured in some aspects. Young and older adults benefited from self-initiation to the same extent, showing similar age-related declines in SI and provided spatial WM. Overall, the study shows that older adults have access to metacognitive knowledge on the structure of efficient WM representations that benefit accuracy, and shows that older adults can use strategic encoding processes efficiently when encoding is SI. More generally, SI WM explores an important aspect of behaviour, demonstrating how older adults shape their environment to facilitate cognitive functioning.
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