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Young People Able To Recall Things Better Because They Store Memories in 'High Definition'

Vanderbilt University researchers concluded that older people tend to store their memories in a lower resolution than younger people, which leads to impaired recollection.

Samantha Goodwin, HNGN, Jan 15, 2014

As you begin ageing your memory power and ability to remember stuff degrades. Researchers from Vanderbilt University conducted a study to look into the behavioral and neural activities across all ages that influence this degradation.

According to a press release, the researchers found it's not that older people don't remember things; it's just that they can't remember them as well as young people because the latter recall memories in "high definition."

For the study, the researchers analyzed the visual working memory of 11 older adults of around 67 years of age and 13 younger adults of approximately 23 years of age. Visual working memory is defined as a "person's ability to briefly retain a limited amount of visual information in the absence of visual stimuli."

Each participant was asked to perform a task called "visual change detection," which required them to view two, three or four colored dots and then memorize their appearance. The dots would randomly appear on a screen for a few seconds and then be substituted by a single dot of either the same color or a new color. Participants were then asked to answer either "same" or "different." The accuracy of response is referred to as "behavioral measure." Researchers also used electroencephalographic data to get a "neural measure" of the participants' memory capacity.

Researchers noted that while the neural measurement was similar across both age groups, the behavioral measurement indicated a lower memory capacity in older participants. This study is the first of its kind to show that the behavioral and electrophysiological correlates in the working memory capacity of older adults can be dissociated.

According to the findings, authors of the study concluded that older people tend to store their memories in a lower resolution than younger people, which leads to impaired recollection. Researchers also noted that younger people are able to use "perceptual implicit memory", giving them a "boost" when they try to retrieve the stored information. Perceptual implicit memory is another type of memory that is data driven.

"We don't know why older adults perform poorly when their neural activity suggests their memory capacity is intact, but we have two leads," Philip Ko of Vanderbilt University said. "First, further analysis of this current dataset and other studies from our laboratory suggest that older adults retrieve memories differently than younger adults. Second, there is emerging evidence from other labs suggesting that the quality of older adults' memories is poorer than younger adults. In other words, while older adults might store the same number of items, their memory of each item is 'fuzzier' than that of younger adults."

The study was published in the journal Attention, Perception & Psychophysics

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