Age-related changes in working memory: Age affects relational but not conjunctive feature binding

Alexander Kirmsse, Hubert D. Zimmer, Ullrich K.H. Ecker

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16 Citations (Scopus)
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In contrast to long-term memory, age-related association deficits in working memory are found only inconsistently. The authors hypothesized that type of binding is critical for the occurrence of such deficits. Relational binding abilities (associating separate visual units) should degrade with age, whereas more automatic conjunctive binding abilities (associating features within an object) should not. They contrasted associative memory and item memory using a change-detection task with colors and shapes in younger (18-33 years) and older (64-82 years) healthy adults. Color was either a surface feature of the shape (conjunctive binding) or a feature of a shape-external frame (relational binding). In a direct test of associative memory, participants memorized color-shape associations; in an indirect item memory test, participants were required to memorize only the shapes, and the authors measured the costs of ignoring task-irrelevant color changes from study to test. In the direct test, associative memory was poorer when relational binding was required rather than conjunctive binding, and associative memory was poorer in the older group, but no age-related association deficit was apparent. In the indirect test, by contrast, type of binding interacted with age: younger participants showed study-test congruence effects independent of the type of binding, but older adults showed enhanced congruence effects for conjunctive stimuli, indicating intact or even enhanced conjunctive binding, and practically no costs for relational stimuli, indicating poor relational binding. This stimulus-specific effect of a task-irrelevant feature change indicates that relational and conjunctive binding in working memory are differently affected by healthy aging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)512-526
Number of pages15
JournalPsychology and Aging
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


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