Memory deficits in aging are characterized by impaired hippocampus-mediated relational binding—the formation of links between items in memory. By reducing reliance on relational binding, unitization of two items into one concept enhances associative recognition among older adults. Can a similar enhancement be obtained when probing memory with recall? This question has yet to be examined, because recall has been assumed to rely predominantly on relational binding. Inspired by recent evidence challenging this assumption, we investigated individual differences in older adults' recall of unitized and nonunitized associations. Compared with successfully aging individuals, older adults with mild memory deficits, typically mediated by the hippocampus, were impaired in recall of paired-associates in a task which relies on relational binding (study: “PLAY–TUNNEL”; test: PLAY–T?). In stark contrast, the two groups showed similar performance when items were unitized into a novel compound word (study: “LOVEGIGGLE”; test: LOVEG?). Thus, boosting nonrelational aspects of recall enhances associative memory among aging individuals with subtle memory impairments to comparable levels as successfully aging older adults.
- associative memory
- individual differences