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Older adults experience 'destination
amnesia'...and over-confidence with false
September, 2010--Older adults experience 'destination amnesia'...and over-confidence with false beliefs September 2010--Older adults are more likely
to have destination memory failures –
forgetting who they've shared or not shared
information with, according to a new study
led by Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute.
It's the kind of memory faux pas that can
lead to awkward or embarrassing social
situations and even miscommunication in the
doctor's office. Ironically, after making
these memory errors older adults remain
highly confident in their false beliefs.
The study appears online, ahead of print
publication, in the Online First Section of Psychology
"What we've found is that older adults tend
to experience more destination amnesia than
younger adults," said lead investigator and
cognitive scientist Dr. Nigel Gopie, who led
the study with internationally-renowned
experts in memory and attention, Drs. Fergus
Craik and Lynn Hasher.
"Destination amnesia is characterized by
falsely believing you've told someone
something, such as believing you've told
your daughter about needing a ride to an
appointment, when you actually had told a
Why are older adults more prone to
destination memory failures? The ability to
focus and pay attention declines with age,
so older adults use up most of their
attentional resources on the telling of
information and don't properly encode the
context (ie. who they are speaking to) for
"Older adults are additionally highly
confident, compared to younger adults, that
they have never told people particular
things when they actually had," added Dr.
Gopie. "This over-confidence presumably
causes older adults to repeat information to
A critical finding in the study is that
destination memory is more vulnerable to
age-related decline than source memory.
Source memory is the ability to recall which
person told you certain information.
In the research, 40 students from the
University of Toronto (ages 18 - 30) and 40
healthy older adults from the community
(ages 60 - 83) were divided into two
experimental groups. The first experiment
measured destination memory accuracy and
confidence: requiring the individual to read
out loud 50 interesting facts to 50
celebrities (whose faces appear on a
computer screen), one at a time, and then
remember which fact they told to which
famous person. For example, "a dime has 118
ridges around it" and I told this fact to
The second experiment measured source memory
accuracy and confidence: requiring the
individual to remember which famous person
told them a particular fact. For example,
Tom Cruise told me that "the average person
takes 12 minutes to fall asleep".
In the first experiment for destination
memory accuracy, older adults' performance
was 21% worse than their younger
In the second experiment for source memory
accuracy, older and younger adults performed
about the same (60% for young, 50% for old)
in recollecting which famous face told them
a particular fact.
The study was funded by the Natural Sciences
and Engineering Research Council of Canada,
Canadian Institutes of Health Research, U.S.
National Institute on Aging, and a Baycrest
Jack and Rita Catherall Award.
The study follows an earlier one published
last year in Psychological Science by Dr.
Gopie (Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute)
and Dr. Colin M. MacLeod (University of
Waterloo). That one looked at disrupted
destination memory in a single age group –
A health-sciences centre affiliated with the
University of Toronto, Baycrest's
internationally-renowned scientific research
and clinical practice is dedicated to
transforming the journey of aging.