Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Adult Development and Aging


College of Sciences and Health Professions

First Advisor

Allen, Phillip

Subject Headings

Cognitive Psychology; Psychology


This study provides a better understanding of contributing factors to age differences in human episodic memory. A recurrent finding in recognition memory is that older adults tend to have lower overall accuracy and tend to make fewer false-alarm errors in judging new items, relative miss errors (Coyne, Allen & Wickens, 1986; Danziger, 1980; Poon and Fozard 1980). Two possible causes for decline in these abilities include an age-related decrement in speed of processing (Salthouse 1991) and changes in information processing ability due to entropy (Allen, Kaufman, Smitch, & Propper 1998a; Mallik et al., in preparation). Additionally, age differences may be partially explained by a tendency for older adults to exhibit a conservative response bias. Surprisingly this study found no age-related differences in recognition memory accuracy, and older adults did not show a more conservative response bias. Due to these null results for age, the study examined the role of response bias (propensity to indicate a probe as being recognized, or new) on recognition memory accuracy and the role of the release from proactive interference (PI) across age. This study introduces a new ERP (Event-Related Potential) component to measure the recognition of “miss” responses called “FN400 Below Threshold”. This component, when looked at collapsed across Experiment 1 & Experiment 2 was positively correlated to behavioral accuracy suggesting that a more conservative response criterion hurts overall behavioral accuracy. Experiment 2 found that words learned from four categories were easier to remember than words from a single category due to a reduction in interference across items. This effect was found for both age groups.