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Revue de neuropsychologie

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The influence of semantic prior knowledge on associative memory in healthy aging Volume 8, issue 4, Octobre-Novembre-Décembre 2016

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Authors
GIGA-CRC in vivo imaging, Université de Liège, allée du 6-Août, 8, Quartier Agora,
4000 Liège, Belgique
* Correspondance

The formation of a global and complex episodic memory requires memory for single units of information of the target event but also binding these elements together. This binding capacity diminishes in healthy aging leading to a so-called associative memory deficit. Interestingly, when support is provided during encoding thanks to semantic prior-knowledge (e.g., semantically related word pairs), this associative deficit can be alleviated. The aim of the present review is to summarize the current literature about the influence of prior-knowledge on associative memory performance in healthy aging. Through an analysis of the procedures that have been used in associative memory studies, we suggest two factors that appear to modulate the impact of prior knowledge on older adults’ associative memory. First, the way word pairs are recombined from the encoding to the retrieval phase is the main factor that has to be taken into account. Conditions that promote recall-to-reject discrimination processes lead to similar performance in older compared to younger adults, whereas conditions that require recollection discrimination lead to an age-related decline. Second, the nature of the semantic relations involved in the prior-knowledge support may influence older adults’ performance by modulating the contribution of recollection and familiarity to recognition. Indeed, categorical semantic relations engage both recollection and familiarity-based discrimination, whereas thematic relations allow participants to rely on familiarity-based discrimination only. This latest observation is crucial when one considers recollection as a declining process, in contrast to familiarity, which remains spared in healthy aging. Therefore, future studies should explore the propensity of other semantic relations to alleviate the age-related associative memory decline.