Differences in time-based task characteristics help to explain the age-prospective memory paradox

Simon J. Haines, Susan E. Randall, Gill Terrett, Lucy Busija, Gemma Tatangelo, Skye N. McLennan, Nathan S. Rose, Matthias Kliegel, Julie D. Henry, Peter G. Rendell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Prior prospective memory (PM) research shows paradoxical findings—young adults outperform older adults in laboratory settings, but the reverse is found in naturalistic settings. Moreover, young-old outperform old-old adults in laboratory settings, but show no age differences in naturalistic settings. Here we highlight how time-based task characteristics have differed systematically between studies conducted in laboratory (time-interval cues) and naturalistic settings (time-of-day cues) and argue that this apparent paradox is a function of comparing disparate task types. In three experiments, we tested this hypothesis using analogous paradigms across settings, with event-based, time-of-day, and time-interval cued PM tasks. Experiment 1 compared young (n = 40) and older (n = 53) adults on a laboratory paradigm that measured PM tasks embedded in a virtual, daily life narrative; and on a conceptually parallel paradigm using a customized smartphone application (MEMO) in actual daily life. Results revealed that on the MEMO, older adults outperformed young adults on the time-of-day tasks but did not differ on the time-interval or event-based task. In contrast, older adults performed worse than young adults in the laboratory. Experiment 2 compared PM performance in young-old (n = 64) and old-old (n = 40) adults using the same paradigms. Young-old outperformed old-old adults in the laboratory; however, group differences were not evident in daily life. Experiment 3 compared young (n = 42) and older (n = 41) adults, and largely replicated the findings of Experiment 1 using a more demanding version of MEMO. These findings provide novel and important insights into the limiting conditions of the age-PM paradox and the need for a finer theoretical delineation of time-based tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104305
Number of pages15
JournalCognition
Volume202
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020

Keywords

  • Cognitive aging
  • Ecological validity
  • PM paradox
  • Prospective memory
  • Time cues

Cite this

Haines, S. J., Randall, S. E., Terrett, G., Busija, L., Tatangelo, G., McLennan, S. N., Rose, N. S., Kliegel, M., Henry, J. D., & Rendell, P. G. (2020). Differences in time-based task characteristics help to explain the age-prospective memory paradox. Cognition, 202, [104305]. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2020.104305