Autobiographical event memory and aging: older adults get the gist

Published: 10 January 2023

According to new research co-authored by McGill University's Associate Professor Signy Sheldon (Psychology), older adults’ ability to retrieve episodic autobiographical events, although often viewed through a lens of decline, reveals much about what is preserved and prioritized in cognitive aging.

Cognitive aging is often viewed through the lens of loss of function. Research examining the way older adults remember autobiographical event memories, therefore, has focused on how aging reduces the ability to form and retrieve specific details, with less emphasis on understanding the aspects of event memories that are preserved among older adults.

Sheldon and co-author, Matthew D. Grilli of the University of Arizona, propose that at the heart of what is preserved in older adults’ autobiographical event memories is the selective sparing of the ability to store and retrieve the gist. Central to their proposal is the idea that the so-called gist of an autobiographical event is not only spared with normal aging but also well adapted to serve memory-guided behavior in older age. 

Read the full study on Trends in Cognitive Access Journal.

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