Using attribute amnesia to test the limits of hyper-binding and associative deficits in working memory

John M. McCormick-Huhn, Hui Chen, Bradley P. Wyble, Nancy A. Dennis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Previous work has shown mixed evidence regarding age-related deficits for binding in working memory. The current study used the newly developed attribute amnesia effect (H. Chen & Wyble, 2015a) to test the associative-deficit hypothesis during working memory and to probe whether hyper-binding extends to include binding of de-selected information. In studies of attribute amnesia, participants use target attributes (e.g., identity, color) to demonstrate near ceiling levels of reporting of a second target attribute (e.g., location) across a series of trials (H. Chen & Wyble, 2015a, 2016). Yet, despite having just processed the target-defining attribute, they have difficulty reporting it on a surprise trial. This effect provides several predictions for associative binding in aging. The associative-deficit hypothesis predicts age-related decline on the surprise trial, whereas an extension of hyper-binding predicts age-related increase in performance in older adults. In Experiment 1, when working memory load was low, older adults demonstrated attribute amnesia equal to that found in younger adults. When load increased in Experiment 2, older adults again demonstrated attribute amnesia as well as an age deficit for reporting target attributes. In lieu of spontaneous binding, results suggest that expectancy plays a critical role in older adults' propensity to encode and bind target attributes in working memory. Results further suggest that expectancy alone is not enough for older adults to form bound representations when task demands are high. Taken together results revealed a boundary condition of hyper-binding and further provided conditional support for the associative-deficit hypothesis in working memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-175
Number of pages11
JournalPsychology and aging
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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