Younger and Older Adults’ Strategic Use of Associative Memory and Metacognitive Control When Learning Foreign Vocabulary Words of Varying Importance
Dillon H. Murphy, Mary B. Hargis, and Alan D. Castel
Older adults often face memory deficits in binding unrelated items. However, in situations such as preparing for foreign travel, a learner may be highly motivated to learn the translations of important words (e.g., “money”). In the present study, younger and older adults studied Swahili-English word pairs and judged the importance of knowing each pair if they were traveling to a foreign country. Generally, we expected older adults to display a memory deficit but for both younger and older adults’ memory to be driven by the subjective importance of the to-be-learned information. Both younger and older adults’ memory was related to their subjective importance ratings, suggesting that both age groups were able to engage in goal-based value-directed remembering. With increased task experience, older adults appeared to utilize a strategic approach in their study of the translations by spending more time studying the items relative to younger adults. Thus, despite associative memory deficits in older age, both younger and older adults can selectively remember subjectively important information such that older adults can effectively remember new vocabulary that is subjectively important and related to their future goals.