The ongoing task in Rendell et al. (2007, Experiment 1) closely followed Maylor's (1993, 1996, 1998) famous faces task as participants were shown 120 pictures of famous faces one at a time and asked to name the faces. The nonfocal prospective memory condition was similar to the Maylor (1996) version as participants were asked to make a response whenever they saw a famous face wearing eyeglasses. In the focal prospective memory condition, participants were asked to make a response whenever they saw a face with the first name of John. The pacing of the ongoing task was identical for the 78 younger adults (M = 19.6 years) and the 60 older adults (M = 75.4 years). Twenty-six younger adults and 20 older adults were assigned to each of two prospective memory conditions (focal, nonfocal) and to a control condition in which participants performed only the ongoing task.
The central finding was a significant interaction between age and target cue for the proportion of correct prospective memory responses. The age deficit was significantly larger in the nonfocal condition (younger adults: M = .87; older adults: M = .55; effect size in terms of = .23) than in the focal condition (younger adults: M = .90; older adults: M = .78; = .07). Another way to view this interaction is that the prospective memory of older adults was significantly higher in the focal condition than in the nonfocal condition, but this was not the case for younger adults, who showed similar levels of performance regardless of the type of target. Ongoing task performance in the three conditions (focal, nonfocal, control), which in this experiment was measured by the proportion of faces correctly named, did not interact with age, and this performance was not significantly affected by performing the prospective memory task. These results directly demonstrate the reduction of age differences with a focal relative to a nonfocal cue, and importantly show that this reduction cannot be attributed to older adults sacrificing ongoing task performance.
These results are consistent with the multiprocess framework (McDaniel & Einstein, 2000). Although the cues of eyeglasses and John were both within the visual field of the participants, the cues differed in their relevance to the features processed to name the face. John is directly relevant to the ongoing task, whereas the presence of eyeglasses is not directly relevant. This opportunity for related processing with the focal rather than nonfocal cue reduced age deficits and therefore indicates that prospective memory retrieval with focal cues could be relatively automatic.
The pattern reported here neatly matches the previous studies that have reported substantial age deficits on the prospective memory tasks with nonfocal cues (May-lor, 1993, 1996; Park et al., 1997) and no significant age differences with focal cues (Cherry & LeCompte, 1999; Einstein & McDaniel, 1990; Einstein et al., 1995, Experiments 1 & 2). The match is not perfect, though, because the age differences were reduced but not eliminated in the focal cue condition. Rendell et al. (2007) proposed this could reflect older adults' relative difficulty with the time limitations on the ongoing task, difficulty due to age-related cognitive slowing (Salthouse, 1991a). Specifically, the presentation times for the faces were identical for younger and older partcipants, and, given cognitive slowing that occurs with age, the ongoing task could have been functionally more demanding for older adults (see Kvavilashvili, Kyle, & Messer, chap. 6, this volume, for further specification of this point).
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