Temporal Aspects of Memory: A Comparison of Memory Performance, Processing Speed and Time Estimation Between Young and Older Adults Academic Article uri icon


  • Cognitive abilities are often reported to decline across the lifespan, particularly when assessed with working memory (WM) measures such as the auditory backward digit span and complex N-back tasks. However, some debate still exists regarding which aspects of cognition are most susceptible to the aging process and which may remain intact. Additionally, time estimation, though a complex psychological dimension, is often studied in relative isolation and is particularly neglected in traditional studies of WM, with little research from the viewpoint of retrospective temporal estimation. In particular, research seldom considers whether the ability to accurately estimate time retrospectively, is correlated with performance on traditional memory and processing speed measures in healthy populations. Thus, we chose to investigate performance of comparably educated young and older adult groups on both classical memory tasks including auditory and visual digit spans, N-back, Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS)-based measures of processing speed (i.e., Symbol Search [SS] and Coding [Cod]) and a temporal measure of WM with a focus on retrospective time estimation. Our sample included 66 university students (58 F, 8 M) between the ages of 18-29, and 33 university-educated healthy older adults (25 F, 8 M) between the ages of 60-81. Results indicated that older adults performed significantly worse on auditory but not the visual digit span tasks, as well as on both the SS and Cod, though performed equally well on the N = 1 back task. Results also showed that retrospective time estimation was not significantly different between young and older adults, with both groups substantially underestimating duration of a simple task. Retrospective time estimation was not significantly correlated to any memory or processing speed measure, emphasizing the need for future research into the specific cognitive domains underlying the subjective estimation of a temporal interval.

publication date

  • 2018