Younger People Have “High Definition” Memories

memory brain ribbon on finger

I want to share with you a report from today, looking at age-related differences on how memories are stored and retrieved. It’s not that younger people are able to remember more than older individuals. The memories of young folks seem better because they are better able to retrieve them in higher definition. 

The Study: Dr. Brandon Ally and Philip Ko of Vanderbilt University (USA) led a research team looking at visual working memory (your ability to briefly retain a limited amount of visual information in the absence of visual stimuli). They ran 11 older adults (around 67 years old) and 13 younger adults (around 23 years old) though the task of visual change detection. The task consisted of viewing 2, 3, or 4 colored dots and memorizing their appearance. These dots disappeared, and then after a few seconds the participants were presented with a single dot appearing in one of the memorized colors or a new color. The accuracy of their response (“same” or “different”) was considered to reflect how well they memorized the colors. Electroencephalographic (EEG) data was also collected as they performed the task.

Results: While behavioral measures indicated a lower capacity in older adults than younger adults to memorize oems, the neural measure of memory capacity was very similar in both groups. In other words, during the maintenance stage both groups stored the same number of items.

My Take: This small study suggests that older adults store information at a lower resolution than do younger adults. Younger adults may be able to use perceptual implicit memory, a different kind of visual memory to give them a “boost” when trying to retrieve stored information. Older adults retrieve memories differently than younger adults. Other researchers’ data hits that the quality of older adults’ memories is poorer (“fuzzier”). I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

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Reference: Philip C. Ko, et al. Understanding age-related reductions in visual working memory capacity: Examing the stages of change detection. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics 2014; DOIL 19,3758/213414-013-0585-z

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Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

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