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Scientists Create Memory Test to Monitor People’s Subjective Sense of Age

Update Date: Oct 11, 2013 01:16 PM EDT

Memory tests are designed so that researchers can observe how many variables, particularly age affect memory. Even though these tests are effective in measuring memory loss over time, researchers from a memory lab at Texas A&M University were more interested in studying the effect of taking these memory tests on older participants. The research team stated that they noticed how nervous and worried volunteers were about performing well on these tests. The team then proceeded to create a test that could measure the volunteer's subjective sense of age.

"It really demonstrates the power of context," the co-author of the study, Lisa Geraci said according to NPR. Geraci is an associate professor of psychology at Texas A&M.

For this study, the research team recruited 22 participants with an average age of 75. Before taking a memory test, the participants reported feeling, on average, 58-years-old. They were confident and felt good about themselves. They were then given a list of 30 nouns and were asked to study them for a total of two minutes. The participants had to recall as many nouns as they could within the time span of three minutes. Even though the volunteers performed well on the test, when they were asked how old they felt after the experiment, the average age was 63. The researchers discovered that within just five minutes, the memory test made the participants feel five years older.

"Older people do much better on memory tests when they expect to excel," commented Geraci. "It shows that you can create experiences to improve performance and even well being. Older adults are really good at a lot of things, but we don't focus on that. We focus on what they can't do."

The researchers believe that the memory test reminded the volunteers of their fear of aging. The experiment tested their cognitive skills, which made them self-conscious about their abilities. This study suggests that encouraging seniors and helping them build confidence could improve their mental health. The study was published in Psychological Science.

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