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Psychol Aging. 2000 Jun;15(2):323-334. doi: 10.1037/0882-7974.15.2.323.

Comparing the effects of aging and background noise on short-term memory performance.

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U Toronto at Mississauga.


Paired associate recall was tested as a function of serial position for younger and older adults for five word pairs presented aurally in quiet and in noise. In Experiment 1, the addition of noise adversely affected recall in young adults, but only in the early serial positions. Experiments 2 and 3 suggested that the recall of older adults listening to the words in quiet was nearly equivalent to that of younger adults listening in noise. In Experiment 4, we determined the signal-to-noise ratio (S/N) such that, on average, younger and older adults were able to correctly hear the same percentage of words when words were presented one at a time in noise. In Experiment 5, younger adults were tested under this S/N. Compared with older adults from Experiment 3, younger adults in this experiment recalled more words at all serial positions. The results are interpreted as showing that encoding in secondary memory is impaired by aging and noise either as a function of degraded sensory representations, or as a function of reduced processing resources.

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