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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Spatial memory changes in adulthood Uttl, Bob


The main goal of the research was to increase our understanding of spatial memory changes in adulthood. Four questions were examined in two experiments. Do age-related changes in spatial memory occur in real-life situations? If so, do they increase linearly across the adult lifespan? Do older adults benefit more than young adults from being informed about an upcoming memory test? Do age-related changes in performance depend on the type of spatial memory test? The first experiment involved a real-life setting~a science center exhibit on memory. Subjects were 302 visitors to the exhibit (approximately equal numbers of men and women), and ranged in age from 15 to 74 years. They were asked to recollect the locations of items displayed in the exhibit. For these subjects, spatial memory remained stable until about 60 years of age, and then declined sharply. The second experiment, conducted in a laboratory, was designed to examine age-related changes in spatial memory under more controlled conditions, while keeping the tasks as similar as possible to a real-life situation. For that purpose, subjects were asked to play the role of a secretary in a simulated office. Subjects were 64 university undergraduates (mean age = 20.1 years) and 32 adults over 65 years of age (mean age = 71.2 years). Half of subjects in each age-group were informed that spatial memory would be tested, whereas others were not. Subjects were required to recollect the locations of items they had used to complete a series of secretarial tasks, either by indicating their locations on a map of the office (the map test), or by relocating them in the office (the relocation test). The results of this experiment showed that (1) the intentional instructions improved spatial memory test performance of older but not young adults, (2) both older and young adults performed higher on the relocation test than on the map test, but (3) advantage due to the relocation test was larger for older than for young adults. The results of both experiments are discussed within a modified transfer-appropriate-processing (TAP) view (cf., Morris, Bransford, & Franks, 1977). This view claims that performance on any memory test is dependent on the degree of overlap between mental operations employed at study and test (Kolers, 1975, 1979). An extension of this view states (Craik, 1983) that study and test tasks can be arranged on a continuum that reflects the extent to which performance depends on subject-initiated processing, and the extent to which it is initiated and guided by the environment. The environmental support includes the cues present at test and instructions given to subjects (Graf, 1990, 1991). According to the modified TAP view, older adults experience difficulty carrying out selfinitiated processing, and are, therefore, more dependent than young adults on environmental support to initiate and guide processes required for effective remembering (Craik, 1983; Graf, 1990).

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