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Demands on perceptual and mnemonic fidelity are a key determinant of age-related cognitive decline throughout the lifespan.

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Gellersen, Helena M  ORCID logo
McMaster, Jessica 
Abdurahman, Ayat 


Aging results in less detailed memories, reflecting reduced fidelity of remembered compared to real-world representations. We tested whether poorer representational fidelity across perception, short-term memory (STM), and long-term memory (LTM) are among the earliest signs of cognitive aging. Our paradigm probed target-lure object mnemonic discrimination and precision of object-location binding. Across the lifespan, cognitive deficits were observed in midlife when detailed stimulus representations were required for perceptual and short/long-term forced choice mnemonic discrimination. A continuous metric of object-location source memory combined with computational modeling demonstrated that errors in STM and LTM in middle-aged adults were largely driven by a loss of precision for retrieved memories, not necessarily by forgetting. On a trial-by-trial basis, fidelity of item and spatial information was more tightly bound in LTM compared to STM with this association being unaffected by age. Standard neuropsychological tests without demands on memory quality (digit span, verbal learning) were less sensitive to age effects than STM and LTM precision. Perceptual discrimination predicted mnemonic discrimination. Neuropsychological proxies for prefrontal executive functions correlated with STM, but not LTM fidelity. Conversely, neuropsychological indicators of hippocampal integrity correlated with mnemonic discrimination and precision of both STM and LTM, suggesting partially dissociable mechanisms of interindividual variability in STM and LTM fidelity. These findings suggest that reduced representational fidelity is a hallmark of cognitive aging across perception, STM, and LTM and can be observed from midlife onward. Continuous memory precision tasks may be promising for the early detection of subtle age-related cognitive decline. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2024 APA, all rights reserved).



Adult, Middle Aged, Humans, Longevity, Memory, Long-Term, Memory, Short-Term, Cognitive Dysfunction, Aging

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J Exp Psychol Gen

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American Psychological Association (APA)
Medical Research Council (1941893)
James S McDonnell Foundation (220020333)
Medical Research Council (2268556)
ESRC (ES/J500033/1)