The influence of recollection and familiarity on age-related differences in primary and secondary distinctiveness

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Kelly, Andrew John
Smith, Anderson D.
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The distinctiveness effect refers to the empirical finding of superior memory for items that stand out from the environment relative to common stimuli. Two variants of distinctiveness paradigms (isolation effect and orthographic distinctiveness) were examined under intentional learning instructions. The isolation effect was also examined using incidental learning instructions. Both groups exhibited distinctiveness effects; further, these effects were accompanied by increases in recollection and familiarity with intentional learning only. This finding is surprising as older adults normatively show declines in recollection with advancing age. Under incidental instructions, none of the groups demonstrated distinctiveness effects, and estimates of recollection and familiarity were identical for distinct and non-distinct items. There was no evidence for heightened objective source memory for distinct items, across the three experiments. These results contribute to a growing literature that older adults can benefit from the presence of distinct information; however, not with incidental learning instructions. Furthermore, the current experiments suggest that in distinctiveness paradigms, older adults are able to display estimates of recollection that are commensurate with young adults. This outcome may arise because distinctiveness paradigms support relational processing, which in turn can improve item-specific processing and boost recollection judgments.
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