Semantic encoding enhances the pictorial superiority effect in the oldest-old

Katie E. Cherry, Department of Psychology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803-5501, USA.
Jennifer Silva Brown
Erin Jackson Walker
Emily A. Smitherman
Emily O. Boudreaux
Julia Volaufova
S Michal Jazwinski


ABSTRACT We examined the effect of a semantic orienting task during encoding on free recall and recognition of simple line drawings and matching words in middle-aged (44-59 years), older (60-89 years), and oldest-old (90+ years) adults. Participants studied line drawings and matching words presented in blocked order. Half of the participants were given a semantic orienting task and the other half received standard intentional learning instructions. Results confirmed that the pictorial superiority effect was greater in magnitude following semantic encoding compared to the control condition. Analyses of clustering in free recall revealed that oldest-old adults' encoding and retrieval strategies were generally similar to the two younger groups. Self-reported strategy use was less frequent among the oldest-old adults. These data strongly suggest that semantic elaboration is an effective compensatory mechanism underlying preserved episodic memory performance that persists well into the ninth decade of life.