Lack Of Imagination In Older Adults Linked To Declining Memory
Most children are able to imagine their future selves as astronauts, politicians or even superheroes; however, many older adults find it difficult to recollect past events, let alone generate new ones. A new Harvard University study reveals that the ability of older adults to form imaginary scenarios is linked to their ability to recall detailed memories.
According to the study, episodic memory, which represents our personal memories of past experiences, “allows individuals to project themselves both backward and forward in subjective time.”
Therefore, in order to create imagined future events, the individual must be able to remember the details of previously experienced ones extract various details and put them together to create an imaginary event, a process known as the constructive-episodic-simulation.
Harvard psychologists Donna Rose Addis, Alana Wong and Daniel Schacter supported the hypothesis using an adapted version of the Autobiographical Interview in which young and older participants responded to randomly selected cue words with past and future scenarios.
When compared with young adults, the researchers found that the older adults displayed a significant reduction in the use of internal episodic details to describe both past memories and imagined future events.
Psychological Science January 2008 (Volume 19, Issue 1 Page 1-91
Age-Related Changes in the Episodic Simulation of Future Events
Donna Rose Addis, Alana T. Wong, and Daniel L. Schacter
Episodic memory enables individuals to recollect past events as well as imagine possible future scenarios. Although the episodic specificity of past events declines as people grow older, it is unknown whether the same is true for future events. In an adapted version of the Autobiographical Interview, young and older participants generated past and future events. Transcriptions were segmented into distinct details that were classified as either internal (episodic) or external. Older adults generated fewer internal details than younger adults for past events, a result replicating previous findings; more important, we show that this deficit extends to future events. Furthermore, the number of internal details and the number of external details both showed correlations between past and future events. Finally, the number of internal details generated by older adults correlated with their relational memory abilities, a finding consistent with the constructive-episodic-simulation hypothesis, which holds that simulation of future episodes requires a system that can flexibly recombine details from past events into novel scenarios.