You're never too old
A knot in a handkerchiefs, mnemonics or the usage of sticky notes, all of these methods help humans to remember important things. The people have always tried to use reminders. Greek speakers have used mnemonics to remember their prepared speech. Not only educated have used non-written reminders, for analphabetic people it was much more important because of their inability to write things down (Le Goff, 1989).
Stories and knowledge were transferred based on these memory aids. While it was important to remember information in the past, humans today need to filter the overabundance of information. According to Schneider (1999), humans live in an over-informed society today. The effective 'half-life' of information is particularly short. Humans still try to unburden their brains by using the internet, libraries, and lexicons. The problem nowadays is not to keep information but to filter all the available information.
Humans want to be ‘up-to-date’ and try to keep information as much as they can. The lifelong learning becomes a central obligation to all of us. Often the learning methods that people have acquired in school are not enough to handle the flood of information when they are grown up. This development is the reason it becomes more and more important to know how our memory works and how we can improve its performance. It is a widespread assumption that the memory performance decreases year over year.
Nevertheless, is already refuted by more than one peer-reviewed-study (Trelle et al., 2015, Zinke et al., 2014, Pearman & Trujillo, 2013). The older generation in particular that have survived WorldWar II and the difficult years after are interested in regaining missed knowledge.
The result of these human requirements, memory training programs and courses have been developed. Adult education and training centers offer more than one course with a title like ‘brain jogging’ or ‘stay mentally fit’ flood adult nowadays. The question that we need to raise is: Is it possible to train the memory to improve its performance?
The memory is a system that need to be understood before it can be handled in an optimal way. Therefore, it is necessary to know the theoretical basics about it. At the beginning of the memory, the process stands the interested to earn information on a particular topic. By an active cognitive process, we collect information from our environment. The collected information needs to be prepared and compared with the information that is still available.
Also, our memory charged the new information with emotions, based on our experience and stored it either in the short-term memory or the long-term memory. The collection process is affected by the intensity of our attention and mental concentration.
Memory and Learning in Older Adults
Luis et al. (2015), assume that people have increasing difficulties in handling and processing information the older they are. The outcome of their study showed that elder people do not only use their frontoparietal network for collecting and processing information but also the cerebellar region. They consider that cerebellar regions that are also used supports the working memory for processing information. Also, they found out that with higher memory loads the subcortical-cortical activations increase. The conclusion of the authors is that the cerebellum can adjust depending on cognitive demands and complexion of information, especially in elder humans.
The deliberate collection of information needs attention and mental concentration. Not the memory performance decreased when we got older, but the mental concentration. The definition of mental concentration is the focused attention that is directed to the source of information. Attention is the level of our sensory organ’s devotion to the topic of information. Wickens & McCarley define attention as following “attention is the ability to attend to desired or necessary stimuli and to exclude unwanted or unnecessary stimuli” (Jacobsen, 2010, p. 421). Moreover, Forster & Lavie (2008) argue that attention is also the possibility to exclude unnecessary stimuli from the stimuli person wants to focus on. For example, reading a book at a train station needs a higher level of attention than reading a book while having a bath at home. The reason for this is the extra stimulus in the environment that we need to exclude, e.g. a discussion couple next to the reader.
Accuracy of people’s judgments of learning
Hertzig et al. (2008) comment on the many heuristics that are used for older adults to make judgment of learning. Also, Serra & Dunlosky (2005) state that the test performance of previous tests correlates positively with the assessment of learning associated with the predicted performance for future tests. Often significant experiences with the used stimuli on image pairs are not available. This heuristic approach together with the age-related increasing confidence in own judgments led to manifested experiences of learning.
Transverse Patterning and Neuroscience Research
Transverse patterning is a standard method to test memory and to learn in humans as well as in rats and monkeys. Nemije et al. (2014) verify the role of prefrontal cortex in the performance of transverse patterning. The image study based on transverse patterning consists of three conflicting distinctions (A+/B-, B+/C-, C+/A-). The result of the study is that neurons perform in the medial prefrontal cortex during the two monkey performance the transverse patterning test. Rickard et al. (1998) state also that especially participants with amnesia fail to solve the last distinction (C+/A-).
Leirer et al. (2010) state that although the volume of the brain shrinks due to its aging, the number of trails in transversal patterning does not increase. However, the reaction time in older humans increases statistically significant.
A goal of this paper was to test if the memory performance in learning decreases with human’s age. This has been tested with non-transversal and transversal patterning. The results show that the correlation and relationship between the total trails and participants age are statistically not significant. Theoretically, the null hypothesis cannot be rejected by these results. The statistical power of the experiment is high (n=15, sample size = 6). Based on this information it can be assumed that the probability for included errors is small.
Similar findings were reported by Pearman & Trujillo (2013). Their study demonstrates that even if the age groups is wider apart (mean of 21.9 and 76.83), the null hypotheses cannot be rejected.
Effect of Pre-Test Judgements
Before discussing these findings further, an important distinction between this paper and several other papers needs to be addressed. Many studies have suggested that older adults are often influenced by their beliefs in their memory abilities and capabilities (Serra et al., 2008). The authors underestimate the impact of the pre-test question regarding participant’s judgment and its influence on their preoccupation regarding the experiment. Serra et al. (2008) seem to be unaware of the difference in life experience that may influence the judgment of older and younger adults. Also, their results are critical for derivating age-related effects. Effects may also caused by meta-memory and not by memory itself.
The experiment, used for the present paper, starts without asking for a judgment of learning or any other information regarding memory differences caused by participant’s age. For this reason, the influence of the preoccupation on experiments results cannot be investigated.
Effect of Training the working memory in older adults
Zinke et al. (2015), discuss in detail the possibility of working-memory training and its influence on cognitive plasticity. According to the authors, working memory is an important neurocognitive process that is involved in most everyday mental activities. The working memory has to store and process information over a short period. Study’s participants were between 65 and 95 years old (mean = 77.2, SD = 8.1), and the half of them had been trained for three weeks. Participants were screened for mental disorders to avoid undesirable dilution of results. It is interesting that the trained group performed significantly better in the verbal working memory test than the control group, F(1,78) = 8.6, p = 0.004, partial n2 = 0.10. The differences between pre-trained and follow-up memory performance are also large in the verbal working memory test, d = 0.88 versus d = 0.17. It was possible for the authors to determine that training effects were still evident after nine months.
It can be assumed that the participants of the present study are well trained in using their working memory due to the fact of their ongoing distance learning activity. Further research is necessary to establish a clear relationship between the memory performance of constant distance learners in advanced years and its control group.
Effect of Pre-Test Explanation of Experiment Rules
The core of Trelle et al.’s (2015) argument is that more elaborative encoding strategies would lead to a significant increase in memory performance in all ages. Their strong argument has been supported by research’s result. Their younger adults (mean = 21.89, SD = 5.01) were students from University, while the older adults (mean = 69.83, SD = 8.16) where physical healthy volunteers. Unlikely they other studies that are mentioned, Trelle et al. (2015) took into account the equality of participant’s educational years.
Leirer et al.’s (2010) observation that there is no age effect on hippocampal activity (associated with cognitive competence) is a strong argument for supporting the null hypothesis of the present study. Their sample consists of 52 right-handed, healthy participants with a mean of 52.4 years (SD = 19.6). The two sequences of experiment consisted of the well-known childhood game “Rock, Paper, and Scissors” (R+/S-, S+/P-, P+R-), and a transverse patterning sequence with meaningful stimuli and relation tasks (B+/Y-, Y+/R-. R+/B-). In contrast to the present experiment, Lerer et al. (2010) trained the participants on both sequences. The participants were instructed the patterning rules explicitly before the experiment has started. After ten correct trials, the participant reached the next level. Driscoll et al. (2003) state that given instructions store experimental’s results. They argue that if participants have to detect their experimental rules by trial and error, the processing time of older adults would be longer. Leirer et al. (2010) allowed ten seconds for each level, if the participants did not hit the processing time, the trail counted as incorrect. For this reason, Leier et al.’s (2010) findings are problematic because due to the pre-test training and explanation of rules, the learning aspect of the experiment was was left beyond.
Although the possible explanation of the findings has been mentioned, detailed investigation of responses was not possible due to the limitation of given variables. Thus, the present findings do not judge between the mentioned interpretations but identify a set of facts under which conditions older learners show the same memory performance as their young peers.
It is assumed that life-long learning is the future for all adults that pursue a professional career. In the present study, we employed transverse patterning and non- transverse patterning tasks to assess the number of the trail with increasing age. To our knowledge, this study is the first to examine the correlation between memory and learning performance in younger and older groups of distance learning students, based on transversal and non-transversal patterning. While on might assume that older distance learning students need more trails to learn unexplained, new rules, we found no support for this approach. In sum, our results support the approach that memory and learning performance does not necessarily decrease with age but that it is related to cognitive competence.
There are several limitations to the present study. The first is the missing processing time for all levels and sequences which is an important variable in other, similar studies. Another issue is that there was not control group that were either trained on the experiment rules or not matriculated at any university. Finally, the study is based on a rather small sample, and while some effects were identified, it is possible that with a larger sample other would have been detected.