There is a body of literature that suggests that episodic memory or the ability to recall specific events or experiences declines as individuals’ age. However, the specific mechanism responsible for this decline remains unclear. There are several theories that aim to explain this trend. One theory, the frontal lobe hypothesis, states that the age-related decline in memory performance may be a result of decreased frontal lobe functioning. The dual process account, suggests that recollection and familiarity, two processes that support memory retrieval, are differentially affected as individuals age. A third theory, the associative deficit hypothesis, posits that older adults are less able to create and retrieve connections that link pieces of information together. This study aims to address and explore these three theories by collecting behavioral and Event-Related-Potential (ERP) data in 125 older adults (ages 60-75) and 125 younger adults (ages 18-30). ERP data is used to assess neuronal activity in response to different stimuli.
The participants will be given a neuropsychological battery that is designed to assess medial temporal lobe (MTL) and frontal lobe (FL) functioning. Within each age cohort, the participants will subsequently be divided into groups based on high or low MTL/FL functioning. This will allow us to investigate age-related and age independent factors (MTL/FL functioning) in memory performance between younger and older adults. In addition, the participants will complete a recognition memory task while wearing an EEG cap to collect ERP data. During this task participants will be asked to make confidence ratings about their memory of the words and whether they remember many details about the word (recollection) or whether they have a global sense of memory but do not remember specific details (familiarity). ERP data will be analyzed for differences in neuronal signals in response to presented words between age groups and high vs. low MTL/FL functioning groups during both encoding and retrieval. The participants will also complete a paired association’s task where they will be asked to remember pairs of words. The individuals will be tested on the pairs and asked to rate the confidence of their decision. Ultimately, this study aims to investigate the extent to which different memory processes, such as recollection vs. familiarity and paired associations are affected by age-related and age independent factors.