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Aging Clin Exp Res. 2010 Aug;22(4):314-23. doi: 10.3275/6704. Epub 2009 Nov 27.

Promoting transfer in memory training for older adults.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy.



Many studies have focused on memory training in aging, showing that older adults can improve their performance. Unfortunately, the benefits of training can rarely be generalized to other tasks for which adults were not specifically trained. We investigated the benefits of instruction-based training in promoting transfer effects in older adults.


In Experiment 1, we evaluated transfer effects in a training group who practiced using standard mnemonics to learn paired associates and word lists, and this group was given instructions about how the mnemonics could be used for two of the four transfer tasks (text learning, name-face learning, grocery list learning, place learning). In Experiment 2, we compared transfer effects for two different training groups: one practiced the strategies with the two trained tasks and did not receive instructions, and the other had the same practice but also received instructions on all the transfer tasks.


Transfer in text learning occurred in both experiments. This transfer is particularly interesting, as text learning was the most dissimilar task in terms of both the nature of the materials and the underlying processes that support performance. The transfer was reliably greater when training involved instructions about applicability than when it did not.


Instructions to use practiced strategies on new materials may be a useful technique in promoting transfer in older adults. It seems that the lack of transfer does not necessarily arise from older adults' inabilities, but because they do not realize that trained strategies can (or should) be applied to new materials.

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