Multimodal coding and strategic approach in young and older adults' visual working memory performance
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Visual working memory (WM) was investigated in young (18-35 yrs) and older (63-88 yrs) adults by assessing use of visual and verbal processing, and strategic approach. Experiment 1 comprised a visual interference paradigm, to investigate visual rehearsal during an abstract visual WM task. Results suggested both groups used a visual strategy, but older adults struggled more when visual interference was administered first, perhaps due to difficulty developing non-visual strategies. In Experiment 2, a more meaningful task version was additionally administered, offering greater opportunity for multimodal coding. Despite the marked effect of age, both groups benefited from semantic availability to the same extent. Young adults reported a verbal strategy more than older adults, who reported less verbal labeling and more visual refreshing, and a less efficient approach overall. The results highlight age-related limitations in visual WM capacity and strategy use, but show potential for compensation, and a role for task practice.