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Psychol Aging. 2001 Dec;16(4):629-42.

Motivation and representational processes in adulthood: the effects of social accountability and information relevance.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina 27695-7801, USA.


The role of motivation in determining age differences in social representations was examined. Adults aged 20 to 83 years were given an impression formation task that attempted to manipulate motivation by varying the characteristics of the target and the extent to which participants would be held accountable for their impressions. It was hypothesized that increasing age would be associated with greater selectivity in the use of available cognitive resources to support the construction of accurate representations. Support for this hypothesis was obtained when trait inferences and recall were examined. Specifically, older adults made more accurate trait inferences and recalled more information when the target was similar in age or they were held accountable for their impressions. In contrast, younger adults demonstrated similar levels of accuracy across conditions. The fact that these effects were observed when cognitive resources was controlled suggests a motivational effect that is independent of age differences in cognitive ability.

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