Exploration and Exploitation in Memory Search Across the Lifespan


We used a formal model of memory (Raaijmakers & Shiffrin, 1981) to model semantic search processes of adults aged between 29 to 99 years of age in the animal naming task (“name all the animals you can”; Thurstone, 1938). Overall, our results support the idea that people switch between global frequency-based retrieval cues and local item-based retrieval cues to navigate their semantic memory. We extend this work by showing the involvement of an executive attention process, as switching is inversely correlated with digit span. Furthermore, our results reveal a further independent effect of aging, associated with increased switching between global and local memory cues for older individuals. These results are consistent with models of working memory and executive processing as representing a measure of goal perseveration and the ability to inhibit distracting information (Kane & Engle, 2004; Hills et al., 2010).

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