Edinburgh Research Explorer

Cognitive aging and verbal labeling in continuous visual memory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Related Edinburgh Organisations

Open Access permissions



  • Download as Adobe PDF

    Final published version, 2.02 MB, PDF document

    Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution (CC-BY)

Original languageEnglish
JournalMemory and Cognition
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 May 2020


The decline of working memory (WM) is a common feature of general cognitive decline, and visual and verbal WM capacity appear to decline at different rates with age. Visual material may be remembered via verbal codes or visual traces, or both. Souza and Skóra, Cognition, 166, 277–297 (2017) found that labeling boosted memory in younger adults by activating categorical visual long-term memory (LTM) knowledge. Here, we replicated this and tested whether it held in healthy older adults. We compared performance in silence, under instructed overt labeling (participants were asked to say color names out loud), and articulatory suppression (repeating irrelevant syllables to prevent labeling) in the delayed estimation paradigm. Overt labeling improved memory performance in both age groups. However, comparing the effect of overt labeling and suppression on the number of coarse, categorical representations in the two age groups suggested that older adults used verbal labels subvocally more than younger adults, when performing the task in silence. Older adults also appeared to benefit from labels differently than younger adults. In younger adults labeling appeared to improve visual, continuous memory, suggesting that labels activated visual LTM representations. However, for older adults, labels did not appear to enhance visual, continuous representations, but instead boosted memory via additional verbal (categorical) memory traces. These results challenged the assumption that visual memory paradigms measure the same cognitive ability in younger and older adults, and highlighted the importance of controlling differences in age-related strategic preferences in visual memory tasks.

    Research areas

  • cognitive aging, delayed estimation, memory precision, verbal labeling, visual working memory

ID: 151241310