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Cortex. 2017 Jun;91:25-39. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2016.11.015. Epub 2016 Dec 1.

Relate it! Objective and subjective evaluation of mediator-based strategies for improving source memory in younger and older adults.

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Department of Psychology, School of Social Sciences, University of Mannheim, Germany. Electronic address:
Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA.


The present study examined younger and older adults' ability to improve their source memory for different types of sources through imaginal and verbal (sentence) mediators. Younger (18-29 years) and older (60-75 years) adults' strategy use and source memory for either text-type (bold vs italic) or person (woman vs man) sources was assessed; strategy use was either spontaneous or the generation of imaginal mediators was instructed before encoding. Younger and older adults did not differ in spontaneous use of mediator-based strategies; however, older adults generated more images but fewer verbal mediators than younger adults. Participants were able to increase mediator generation when instructed to, resulting in substantial increases in both item and source memory for the instructed conditions in both age groups. Use of verbal mediators was more likely for the more concrete person sources for which source memory was generally better. Importantly, these objective benefits of mediator-based strategies translated into subjective benefits for both younger and older adults: Increased use of either mediator type was correlated with lower experienced task difficulty; the instructions to use imaginal mediators resulted in a significant decrease in difficulty ratings on the group level. Participants were generally able to monitor mediator benefits to both item and source memory and accurately judged mediator strategies (especially imagery) as more effective than repetition; older adults, however, rated all strategies as less effective than younger adults. Implications of these findings, especially for neuropsychological studies on source monitoring, are discussed.


Associative deficit; Cognitive aging; Encoding strategy; Imagery; Source memory

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