Evoking episodic and semantic details with instructional manipulation during autobiographical recall

Greta Melega, Fiona Lancelotte, Ann-Kathrin Johnen, Michael Hornberger, Brian Levine, Louis Renoult

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Older adults tend to describe experiences from their past with fewer episodic details, such as spatiotemporal and contextually specific information, but more non-episodic details, particularly personal semantic knowledge, than younger adults. While the reduction in episodic details is interpreted in the context of episodic memory decline typical of aging, interpreting the increased production of semantic details is not as straightforward. We modified the widely used Autobiographical Interview (AI) to create a Semantic Autobiographical Interview (SAI) that explicitly targets personal (P-SAI) and general semantic memories (G-SAI) with the aim of better understanding the production of semantic information in aging depending on instructional manipulation. Overall, older adults produced a lower proportion of target details than young adults. There was an intra-individual consistency in the production of target details in the AI and P-SAI, suggesting a trait level in the production of personal target details, or a consistency in the narrative style and communicative goals adopted across interviews. Older adults consistently produced autobiographical facts and self-knowledge across interviews, suggesting that they are biased towards the production of personal semantic information regardless of instructions. These results cannot be easily accommodated by accounts of aging and memory emphasizing reduced cognitive control or compensation for episodic memory impairment. Nevertheless, future work is needed to fully disentangle between these accounts.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology and Aging
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 13 Mar 2024


  • autobiographical memory, episodic memory, personal semantic memory, ageing
  • episodic memory
  • personal semantic memory
  • ageing

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