Perceptions of Forgetfulness in Adulthood

Katie E. Cherry, Department of Psychology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA.
Susan Brigman, Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA.
Allison M. Burton-Chase, Department of Population Health Sciences, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Albany, New York, USA.
Kayla H. Baudoin, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, California, USA.


In two experiments, we examined younger and older participants' appraisals of memory failures in fictitious characters portrayed as younger (in their 20's to 30's) or older (in their 60's to 70's) adults. Participants read vignettes where forgetful behavior had minor or more severe consequences for the target character (Experiment 1) or for the character and others in the social environment (Experiment 2). Participants rated potential causes of the forgetfulness and opinions concerning the target character's cognitive health. In Experiment 1, an age-based double standard was observed, where both age groups rated ability as a cause of forgetting more often for older than younger characters. Ratings of forgetfulness as a sign of mental difficulty, need for memory training, and professional evaluation were also higher for older compared to younger characters. In Experiment 2, the Attribution Type by Target Age interaction effect was replicated. Ability and effort contributed to the significance of the interaction, confirming the reliability and generalizability of the age-based double standard. Forgetfulness was rated as a sign of mental difficulty more often for the older than younger characters, replicating Experiment 1. In both experiments, the consequences of the forgetting had a large impact on the attribution and opinion ratings for younger and older forgetful characters. These data suggest that people of all ages evaluate forgetful characters in light of situational outcomes as well as ageist presumptions of cognitive frailty in later life.