Associative-memory deficit as a function of age and stimuli serial position

Jonathan Guez, Rotem Saar-Ashkenazy, Yael Poznanski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies have shown associative-memory decline in aging. While the literature is inconclusive regarding the source of the deficit, some researchers argue that it is caused by impaired encoding and maintenance processes in working-memory (WM). Successful retrieval of a stimulus depends on its sequential presentation in the learning list: stimuli at the beginning or the end of the learning list benefit from higher retrieval probability. These effects are known as “primacy” and “recency” effects, respectively. In the case of the primacy-effect, stimuli at early list positions benefit from extensive rehearsal that results in enhanced consolidation and trace in long-term memory (LTM). In the case of the recency-effect, target stimuli at later serial positions are still maintained in WM and can therefore be effortlessly retrieved. Considering these effects could shed light on the involvement of WM in associative-binding. Both behavioral and neuroimaging researchers have studied associative-decline in aging. However, no work has explicitly tested age differences in memory for items versus associations as a function of stimuli serial position (SSP). In the current study, 22 younger and 22 older adults were recruited to participate in a study aimed to test the separate and joint effects of both SSP and aging on memory-recognition of items and associations. In the task used, retrieval was manipulated for SSP (beginning/middle/end of the list) and item/associations recognition modes. We hypothesized that greater associative-decline will be observed in older adults, specifically for recently presented material. The results showed that both groups presented a significant associative-deficit at the recency positions; this decrease was additive and did not correspond to the expected interaction effect. Further analysis showed that the source of associative-memory decline for stimuli at recency position in older adults resulted from an increase in false-alarm (FA) rates. These results support the involvement of WM-binding impairment in aging.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0268557
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8 August
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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