Tests of the DRYAD theory of the age-related deficit in memory for context: Not about context, and not about aging

Aaron S. Benjamin, Michael Diaz, Laura E. Matzen, Benjamin Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Older adults exhibit a disproportionate deficit in their ability to recover contextual elements or source information about prior encounters with stimuli. A recent theoretical account, DRYAD, attributes this selective deficit to a global decrease in memory fidelity with age, moderated by weak representation of contextual information. The predictions of DRYAD are tested here in three experiments. We show that an age-related deficit obtains for whichever aspect of the stimulus subjects' attention is directed away from during encoding (Experiment 1), suggesting a central role for attention in producing the age-related deficit in context. We also show that an analogous deficit can be elicited within young subjects with a manipulation of study time (Experiment 2), suggesting that any means of reducing memory fidelity yields an interaction of the same form as the age-related effect. Experiment 3 evaluates the critical prediction of DRYAD that endorsement probability in an exclusion task should vary nonmonotonically with memory strength. This prediction was confirmed by assessing the shape of the forgetting function in a continuous exclusion task. The results are consistent with the DRYAD account of aging and memory judgments and do not support the widely held view that aging entails the selective disruption of processes involved in encoding, storing, or retrieving contextual information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)418-428
Number of pages11
JournalPsychology and aging
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2012


  • Attention
  • Context memory
  • Global deficit
  • Recognition
  • Source memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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