Multimodal coding and strategic approach in young and older adults' visual working memory performance

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Visual working memory (WM) was investigated in young (18–35 yrs) and older (63–88 yrs) adults by assessing use of visual and verbal processing, and strategic approach. Experiment 1 comprised a visual interference paradigm, to investigate visual rehearsal during an abstract visual WM task. Results suggested both groups used a visual strategy, but older adults struggled more when visual interference was administered first, perhaps due to difficulty developing non-visual strategies. In Experiment 2, a more meaningful task version was additionally administered, offering greater opportunity for multimodal coding. Despite the marked effect of age, both groups benefited from semantic availability to the same extent. Young adults reported a verbal strategy more than older adults, who reported less verbal labeling and more visual refreshing, and a less efficient approach overall. The results highlight age-related limitations in visual WM capacity and strategy use, but show potential for compensation, and a role for task practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-113
Number of pages31
JournalAging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition
Issue number1
Early online date7 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2020


  • visual working memory
  • strategy
  • dual and multimodal coding
  • cognitive aging/ageing
  • older adults


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