How to induce an age-related benefit of semantic relatedness in associative memory: It’s all in the design.

The age-related associative memory deficit can be alleviated, under some conditions, when to-be-remembered associations are semantically related. In this study, we explored the experimental conditions in which older adults benefited from semantic relatedness and those that hindered any associative memory improvement. We did so by manipulating the level of semantic support within the associations presented at encoding and within the recombined pairs (i.e., the lures) at retrieval, such that pairs with high semantic support at encoding were recombined into pairs with equally high or with lower level of semantic support, and vice versa. We predicted that semantic relatedness would benefit older adults’ associative memory when there was a decrease in semantic support from encoding to retrieval. Conversely, older adults’ associative memory would be hindered when a recombination was equally or more familiar than the studied association. In Experiment 1, we manipulated the presence versus absence of semantic relatedness within associations both at encoding and at retrieval. In Experiment 2, we manipulated the frequency of related associations at encoding and at retrieval. Taken together, the results showed that older adults’ associative memory was better in conditions in which associations closely matched semantic knowledge at encoding and were recombined into associations with no or less semantic support at retrieval. In contrast, older adults’ performance was worse for semantically poorer associations at encoding that were recombined into associations with greater semantic support at retrieval. This suggests that older adults’ associative memory can be improved by semantic support under specific experimental conditions only. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)