Examining metacognitive control: are there age-related differences in item selection during self-paced study?

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Price, Jodi L.
Hertzog, Christopher
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Self-paced study involves choosing items for (re)study and determining how much time will be allocated to those items so as to maximize later recall, making it a viable venue for examining whether there are age-related differences in metacognitive control. Two prominent models have been proposed to account for item selection and study time allocation behaviors during self-paced study. The Discrepancy Reduction Model (DRM; Dunlosky & Hertzog, 1998; Nelson & Leonesio, 1988) suggests individuals will always select and allocate the most time to items that have not yet been learned, whereas the Region of Proximal Learning model (RPL; Metcalfe, 2002) predicts individuals will select the easiest unknown items and will only later select and allocate time to the more difficult items if time constraints permit, thus making distinctions among unlearned items graded by difficulty. Two experiments were conducted to examine whether younger and older adults item selection and study time allocation behaviors would be more consistent with DRM or RPL model predictions. Across both experiments younger and older adults initially selected easier items for study, providing the first evidence to date that the RPL model would extend to older adults self-paced study of heterogeneously difficult Spanish-English vocabulary pairs. However, both younger and older adults allocated more time to difficult than easier items. The assignment of point values to items in Experiment 2 affected how likely participants were to pursue each of four experimenter-determined task goals that either stressed the number of words recalled, points earned, or both. Whether point values initially favored recall of easy or difficult items interacted with time constraints to influence the basis (objective versus subjective difficulty) and order of participants item selections (Experiment 2). However, younger adults were better able to effectively allocate their study time to achieve self-determined (Experiment 1) and experimenter-determined goals (Experiment 2), indicating age-related differences in metacognitive control despite younger and older adults having similar memory self-efficacy ratings and encoding strategy use behaviors.
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