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The Dynamics of Memory for United States Presidents in Younger and Older Adults

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The Dynamics of Memory for United States Presidents in Younger and Older Adults


Dillon H. Murphy & Alan D. Castel



ABSTRACT

Serial position effects are often observed within the free recall of unassociated words but also when recalling items from a semantic category like U.S. presidents. We investigated the dynamics of recall for U.S. presidents in younger and older adults to examine potential age-related differences in the organisation of retrieval from semantic long-term memory. Older adults recalled more presidents than younger adults and also demonstrated dual serial position effects such that, in addition to overall serial position effects, primacy (e.g., Eisenhower) and recency presidents (e.g., Obama) within older adults’ lifetime were better recalled than presidents from the middle of their lives (e.g., Ford). Additionally, participants initiated recall with the most distinct presidents (highly familiar or memorable presidents like Washington, Obama, Trump), and conditional-response probabilities revealed that presidents from similar eras were recalled in close proximity, indicating that the retrieval of distinct presidents can facilitate memory for presidents from a similar era. Collectively, we demonstrate the potential interplay of the mechanisms that influence the organisation of retrieval such that distinctiveness and temporal contiguity effects may simultaneously impact recall. Specifically, semantic and temporal-contextual associations can drive semantic autobiographical memory and people likely organise retrieval from long-term memory according to familiarity and distinctiveness.

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