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Effects of repetition on associative recognition in young and older adults: item and associative strengthening.
Young and older adults studied word pairs and later discriminated studied pairs from various types of foils including recombined word-pairs and foil pairs containing one or two previously unstudied words. We manipulated how many times a specific word pair was repeated (1 or 5) and how many different words were associated with a given word (1 or 5) to tease apart the effects of item familiarity from recollection of the association. Rather than making simple old/new judgments, subjects chose one of five responses: (a) Old-Old (original), (b) Old-Old (rearranged), (c) Old-New, (d) New-Old, (e) New-New. Veridical recollection was impaired in old age in all memory conditions. There was evidence for a higher rate of false recollection of rearranged pairs following exact repetition of study pairs in older but not younger adults. In contrast, older adults were not more susceptible to interference than young adults when one or both words of the pair had multiple competing associates. Older adults were just as able as young adults to use item familiarity to recognize which word of a foil was old. This pattern suggests that recollection problems in advanced age are because of a deficit in older adults' formation or retrieval of new associations in memory. A modeling simulation provided good fits to these data and offers a mechanistic explanation based on an age-related reduction of working memory.