The sounds of memory: Extending the age-prospective memory paradox to everyday behavior and conversations

Maximilian Haas*, Matthias R Mehl, Nicola Ballhausen, Sascha Zuber, Matthias Kliegel, Alexandra Hering

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
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Around the turn of the millennium, the "age-prospective memory (PM) paradox" challenged the classical assumption that older adults necessarily evidence a marked decline in PM functioning. As previous investigations highlighted ecological validity to be a potential explanation, the present study sought to extend established approaches by using novel real-world assessment technologies to examine PM unobtrusively in everyday-life conversations.


Next to laboratory PM tasks, real-life PM performance of 53 younger adults (19-32 years) and 38 older adults (60-81 years) was assessed from three sources: Over nine days, participants completed an experimenter-given naturalistic task, a diary-based approach assessing self-assigned intentions, as well as an ambulatory assessment with the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR), a device that unobtrusively samples ambient sounds to detect spontaneous speech production related to (lapses in) everyday PM.


Older adults showed lower performance in laboratory PM only for the time-based task, and performed either equally well as or even better than younger adults in everyday PM. With regard to PM performance as captured in real-life ambient audio data, younger adults talked more frequently about PM than older adults, but no significant difference between younger and older adults was found for speech related to PM errors.


Findings confirmed older adults' preserved PM performance in everyday life across different indicators with increasing ecological validity. Furthermore, as a novel method to assess conversational PM in everyday life, the EAR opens new insights about the awareness of PM lapses and the communication of intentions in real life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-703
JournalThe Journals Of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences And Social Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Ambulatory assessment
  • Ecological validity
  • Electronically activated recorder
  • Everyday cognition


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