Human memory varies according to the age of an individual as growth and development of an individual is subject to age. As children grow and their brains develop, they begin to understand what is taking place in their environment. Since humans use common sense when interpreting what is in their environment, the sensitivity and accuracy of the common sense vary across all ages.
Children and the elderly are unable to use their common sense because of the reduced memory capacity to internalize, process, and respond to a given stimulus in time (Hogan, Bridges, Justice, & Cain, 2011). Comparatively, young adults and adults have the capacity to internalize, process, and respond to a certain stimulus in time.
Hence, the ability of an individual to use common sense optimally is subject to age. This means that children, young adults, adults, and the elderly have different capacities of memory due to variations in ages.
Moreover, children do not only have low literacy levels than adults, but also they are unable to perform complex arithmetic expressions as adults. Therefore, it is evident that memory capacity varies according to the age of an individual. In this view, this essay examines how memory capacity varies across the ages.
Children, Adults and the Elderly
One aspect of memory that varies across all ages is the selectivity of visual processing information. According to Plude and Hoyer (1986), “age decrements in the selectivity of visual processing information may be mediated by age deficits in either the selection of task-relevant information in divided-attention situations or the suppression of information that is irrelevant in focused-attention situations” (p. 4).
Divided-attention and focused-attention are two aspects of memory that determine the capacity of an individual to process visual information. The processing of visual stimuli such as digits and letters is dependent on the presence or absence of non-target objects, which interfere with the accuracy and speed of visual processing.
The selectivity of visual processing information declines with age, as old adults are more susceptible to the interference of non-target objects than young adults are.
Plude and Hoyer argue that, “the findings indicate that the magnitude of the divided-attention deficit increases with age, whereas focused-attention deficits are unaffected by aging” (p. 4). Hence, it implies that interference by non-target objects increases obstruction of visual processing information due to divided-attention.
As people grow and develop, their memories become susceptible to the proactive interferences. The use of dual-process approach has shown that proactive interferences cause varied extent of misinformation according to the age. Recollection is an aspect of memory that is under the control of conscious memory, which defines the ability of a person to remember past events.
The ability to recollect depends on the nature and extent of proactive interferences that prevent the accessibility of information or decrease recollection capacity. A study shows that young adults are less prone to the proactive interferences than old adults are because the recollection capacity of the young people is high (Jacoby, Bishara, Hessels, & Toth, 2005).
The variation in the recollection capacity across the ages reflects the ability of memory to withstand proactive interferences. As a person grows and develops, the ability to withstand proactive interferences declines with time, and thus makes adult people have a low recollection capacity.
As individuals grow old, they experience changes in emotional regulation. People usually have positive and negative emotions that influence their memory capacity. While young adults have high levels of negative emotions and low levels of positive emotions, old adults have low levels of negative emotions and high levels of positive emotions (Fernandes, Ross, Wiegand, & Schryer, 2008).
The disparity in the levels of positive and negative emotions influences the memory capacity of individuals across all ages. Since young adults have high levels of positive emotions and low levels of negative emotions, the positive emotions enable them to enhance their memory capacity for positive information. This explains why adults can easily regulate their emotions when compared to young adults and children.
The elderly depict emotional maturity because they have high levels of positive emotions and minimal levels of negative emotions. In contrast, the high levels of negative emotions among young adults and children explain why they do not have only poor memory, but also are unable to regulate their emotions.
Fernandes, Ross, Wiegand, and Schryer (2008) assert that, “there is consistency across materials on how emotional valence affects an individual’s memory” (p. 304). Hence, young adults have lower memory capacity than the elderly due to age-related positivity effect.
Ways of Improving Performance
The selective processing of visual information is a problem that old people experience because they are unable to differentiate target and non-target objects. The deficit in processing of visual information among the elderly can be enhanced by reducing non-target objects, which interfere with the processing of visual information.
“Obviating visual search by specifying in advance a single and relevant location in the visual field eliminates age deficits in target-detection performance” (Plude & Hoyer, 1986, p. 9). In this view, elimination or reduction of non-target objects in the visual fields enhances selective processing of visual information by the adult people.
Owing to proactive interferences, old people experience a reduction in their recollection capacity. Proactive interferences tend to cloud memory and cause interference, which reduces the capacity of recollection.
According to Jacoby, Bishara, Hessels, and Toth (2005), reduction of the proactive interferences among adults would enhance memory capacity and thus promote recollection ability. The reduction of proactive interferences prevents the occurrence of misinformation and thus enhances recollection capacity among adults.
Emotional regulation is an issue of memory deficit that affects young people and children for they have unlimited control of their emotions. The reason why young people and children are unable to control their emotions is that they have high levels of negative emotions and low levels of positive emotions.
High levels of negative emotions make children and young adults have low capacity of memory. Young adults and children should stabilize their mood for them to reduce their negative emotions (Fernandes, Ross, Wiegand, & Schryer, 2008). Stabilization of the mood entails a reduction of negative emotions while increasing positive emotions.
The capacity of human memory varies according to the age because of the changes caused by the growth and development. The processing of visual information is an important aspect of memory that varies according to the age. The capacity to process visual information declines with the age due to interference caused by non-target objects.
Likewise, proactive interferences reduce the recollection ability among the adult people. Hence, elimination of non-target objects and reduction of proactive interferences help in improving the memory capacity of adults. Among children, high levels of negative emotions reduce their ability to utilize positive emotions.
Thus, stabilization of the mood by reduction of negative emotions is essential in improving the memory capacity of children.
Fernandes, M., Ross, M., Wiegand, M., & Schryer, E. (2008). Are the Memories of Older Adults Positively Biased? Psychology and Aging, 23(2), 297-306.
Hogan, T., Bridges, M., Justice, L., & Cain, K. (2011). Increasing Higher Level Language Skills to Improve Reading Comprehension. Focus on Exceptional Children, 44(3), 1-20.
Jacoby, L., Bishara, A., Hessels, S., & Toth, J. (2005). Aging, Subjective Experience, and Cognitive Control: Dramatic False Remembering by Older Adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 134(2), 131-148.
Plude, D., & Hoyer, W. (1986). Age and the Selectivity of Visual Information Processing. Journal of Psychology and Aging, 1(1), 4-10.