The influence of emotional salience and age on a laboratory measure of prospective memory

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Emotional factors have been found to be an important influence on memory. The current study investigated the influence of emotional salience and age on a laboratory measure of prospective memory (PM) using Virtual Week. Virtual Week is a laboratory based test of prospective memory that simulates a week of activities in a computerised board game format. This includes simulated activities that require participants to carry out prospective memory tasks. They are scored on completion and timeliness.

Thirty young and thirty old adults completed Virtual Week, in which the emotional salience of the tasks at encoding was manipulated to be positive, negative or neutral in content.

Background data includes age, gender, years of education, self rated health, depression scale (HADS), dementia scale screening (ACER), vocabulary test score (Mill Hill) and general mental ability test (Raven).

For event-based, but not time-based tasks, positivity enhancement in both age groups was seen, with a greater number of positive PM tasks being performed relative to neutral tasks. There was no negativity enhancement effect.

Older adults showed generally poorer levels of PM, but they also demonstrated greater beneficial effects of positive valence compared to young. These effects of emotion on PM accuracy do not appear to reflect the retrospective component of the task as a different pattern of emotion effects was seen on the recall of PM content. Results indicate that older adults’ difficulties in prospective remembering can be reduced where the tasks to be remembered are positive.

Primary data, experimental data. SPSS files

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