Executive function and high ambiguity perceptual discrimination contribute to individual differences in mnemonic discrimination in older adults

Gellersen, H.M., Trelle, A.N., Henson, R.N., & Simons, J.S. (2021). Cognition, 209, 104556.

Mnemonic discrimination deficits, or impaired ability to discriminate between similar events in memory, is a hallmark of cognitive aging, characterised by a stark age-related increase in false recognition. While individual differences in mnemonic discrimination have gained attention due to potential relevance for early detection of Alzheimer's disease, our understanding of the component processes that contribute to variability in task performance across older adults remains limited. The present investigation explores the roles of representational quality, indexed by perceptual discrimination of objects and scenes with overlapping features, and strategic retrieval ability, indexed by standardised tests of executive function, to mnemonic discrimination in a large cohort of older adults (N=124). We took an individual differences approach and characterised the contributions of these factors to performance under Forced Choice (FC) and Yes/No (YN) recognition memory formats, which place different demands on strategic retrieval. Performance in both test formats declined with age. Accounting for age, individual differences in FC memory performance were best explained by perceptual discrimination score, whereas YN memory performance was best explained by executive functions. A linear mixed model and dominance analyses confirmed the relatively greater importance of perceptual discrimination over executive functioning for FC performance, while the opposite was true for YN. These findings highlight parallels between perceptual and mnemonic discrimination in aging, the importance of considering demands on executive functions in the context of mnemonic discrimination, and the relevance of test format for modulating the impact of these factors on performance in older adults.