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Psychol Aging. 2011 Sep;26(3):661-70. doi: 10.1037/a0022942.

The role of forgetting rate in producing a benefit of expanded over equal spaced retrieval in young and older adults.

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Department of Psychology, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri 63130, USA.


The current study examined the effects of two manipulations on equal and expanded spaced retrieval schedules in young and older adults. First, we examined the role that the type of expansion (systematic vs. nonsystematic) has in producing a benefit of expanded retrieval. Second, we examined the influence of an immediate retrieval attempt to minimize forgetting after the original encoding event. It was predicted that including multiple retrieval attempts with minimal intervening spacing (best accomplished in a nonsystematic retrieval schedule) would be necessary to produce a benefit of expanded retrieval over equal spaced retrieval for older adults but not young adults due to age differences in working memory capacity. Results from two experiments revealed that the presence of an expanded over equal spaced retrieval benefit is modulated by the extent to which the spacing conditions minimize forgetting in the early retrieval attempts in the spaced conditions. As predicted, these conditions differ substantially across young and older adults. In particular, in older adults two intervening items between early retrieval attempts produce dramatic rates of forgetting compared to one intervening item, whereas younger adults can maintain performance up to five intervening events in comparable conditions. Discussion focuses on age differences in short term forgetting, working memory capacity, and the relation between forgetting rates and spaced retrieval schedules.

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