- Aging memories: differential decay of episodic memory components
- Learning & Memory
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
Some memories about events can persist for decades, even a lifetime. However, recent memories incorporate rich sensory information, including knowledge on the spatial and temporal ordering of event features, while old memories typically lack this "filmic" quality. We suggest that this apparent change in the nature of memories may reflect a preferential loss of hippocampus-dependent, configurational information over more cortically based memory components, including memory for individual objects. The current study systematically tests this hypothesis, using a new paradigm that allows the contemporaneous assessment of memory for objects, object pairings, and object-position conjunctions. Retention of each memory component was tested, at multiple intervals, up to 3 mo following encoding. The three memory subtasks adopted the same retrieval paradigm and were matched for initial difficulty. Results show differential decay of the tested episodic memory components, whereby memory for configurational aspects of a scene (objects' co-occurrence and object position) decays faster than memory for featured objects. Interestingly, memory requiring a visually detailed object representation decays at a similar rate as global object recognition, arguing against interpretations based on task difficulty and against the notion that (visual) detail is forgotten preferentially. These findings show that memories undergo qualitative changes as they age. More specifically, event memories become less configurational over time, preferentially losing some of the higher order associations that are dependent on the hippocampus for initial fast encoding. Implications for theories of long-term memory are discussed.
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