Individual and Age Differences in Free Recall Dynamics
Context theories of episodic memory propose that the ability to isolate prior events during retrieval depends on the match between the contextual information available at retrieval at the contextual representations that are stored with target information. Free recall tasks are thought to depend heavily on the ability to self-initiate context reinstatement, making them ideal to investigate the role of context utilization in episodic memory. The ability to utilize contextual information varies as a function of working memory capacity (WMC), with high-WMC individuals showing more effective context utilization than low-WMC individuals. We are currently examining how episodic memory retrieval in a highly context-dependent task (free recall) depends on WMC ability.
We are also investigating the role of context processing in age-related episodic memory deficits. An inevitable consequence of healthy aging is impairment in the ability to remember prior episodes. Age-related episodic memory deficits are most pronounced when little environmental support is available to cue earlier memories. These deficits are also heightened when similar memories compete during retrieval. This line of research is aimed at understanding the mechanisms that underlie age-related episodic memory deficits in free recall from multiple sources of information.
In this research, we use analyses of retrieval dynamics and computational models to examine how people who differ in their use of context constrain memory search and reject intrusions from other events. We are currently examining how context processing abilities interact with stimulus and task characterstics, thus leading to differences in how people initiate retrieval, monitor its accuracy, and decide what memories to report.