Visuospatial Bootstrapping: Aging and the Facilitation of Verbal Memory by Spatial Displays. Calia, C., Darling, S., Allen, R., J., & Havelka, J.
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A B S T R A C T When people are presented with a random list of digits to remember over an interval of a few seconds, the cognitive systems that are used are mainly verbal working memory systems, and these are different from those used when remembering visuospatial information. Our previous work has demonstrated that under certain circumstances, visuospatial memory processes can assist verbal memory processes. If a sequence of random numbers is presented for immediate recall in order, memory is better if the digits are displayed on a familiar telephone keypad array compared to either an unfamiliar random keypad or a single item. We previously argued that this was evidence for the existence of processes (described in many modern theories of memory) that could integrate information held in long-term memory (knowledge about the keypad) with short-term visuospatial memory for sequences of locations and short-term verbal memory for sequences of digits. In the current article, we report a study that demonstrates that this pattern remains present in a sample of older (55–76 years) adults compared to a younger sample (19 –35 years). There are important benefits of this identification of the age-resilience of linkages between different types of information in short-term memory. One specific benefit is to theories of aging, but a second, broader, benefit may be that we can capitalize upon this finding to develop strategies and techniques for boosting the efficiency of working memory in older adults, an outcome that would have many benefits to an aging population. S C I E N T I F I C A B S T R A C T Recent studies on verbal immediate serial recall show evidence of the integration of information from verbal and visuospatial short-term memory with long-term memory representations. Verbal serial recall is improved when the information is arranged in a familiar spatially distributed pattern, such as a telephone keypad. This pattern, termed visuospatial bootstrapping, is consistent with the existence within working memory of an episodic buffer (Baddeley, 2000). The present experiment aimed to investigate whether similar results would be obtained in a sample of older adults. Older (55–76) and younger (19 –35) adults carried out visual serial recall in 3 visual display conditions that have previously been used to demonstrate visuospatial bootstrapping. Results demonstrated better performance when digits were presented in a typical telephone keypad display. Although digit serial recall declined with age, there was no evidence that this visuospatial bootstrapping effect differed in size between older and younger adults. Theoretical and practical implications of these results are described.

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