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Exp Aging Res. 2005 Oct-Dec;31(4):355-91.

An emotional mediation theory of differential age effects in episodic and semantic memories.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, The University of Akron, Akron, OH 44325-4301, USA. paallen@uakron.edu


Although there is a large decrement in central episodic memory processes as adults age, there is no appreciable decrement in central semantic memory processes (Allen et al., Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 57B, P173-P186, 2002; Allen et al., Experimental Aging Research, 28, 111-142, 2002; Mitchell, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 15, 31-49, 1989). The authors develop a theory of episodic memory's connections to cognitive, emotional, and motivational systems to explain these differential age effects. The theory is discussed within the context of the cognitive neuroscience research regarding limbic system connectivity in conjunction with Damasio's notion of somatic markers (Descartes' error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain, New York: Grosset/Putnam, 1994). The central hypothesis is that elements of limbic system circuitry, including portions of the medial temporal lobes and frontal cortex, are associated with both working and long-term episodic memory performance, and by extension, with the capacity to engage in emotion-guided, self-regulatory processes that depend heavily on episodic memory. In contrast, the semantic memory system may have less shared interface with episodic and affective networks (i.e., the limbic-related system), and therefore remain independent of neurocognitive changes impacting emotional states and episodic-type memory processes. Accordingly, this framework may account for the pattern of age-related declines in episodic relative to semantic memory, particularly if older adults experience less emotional activation, and therefore fewer somatic markers, than younger adults. An initial empirical examination of this emotional mediation theory is presented, using preexisting data that include indicators of age, chronic tendency to focus on negative emotional stimuli (neuroticism), and working memory performance.

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