A threat in the elder: the impact of task-instructions, self-efficacy and performance expectations on memory performance in the elderly



Widely used explicit memory tasks seem to overestimate age-related differences in memory performance. Social and personal factors may buffer or undermine the effect of age on memory performance. In two studies, the performance of older adults was compared with the performance of younger adults. Tasks were presented either as memory tasks or non-memory tasks. Older adults' performance on a memory task improved when the task-instructions did not explicitly emphasize the memory component of the task. In the first study, results revealed that memory self-efficacy beliefs play a moderator role on the impact of task-instruction on memory performance, so that lower levels of memory self-efficacy correlate with lower performance in the memory emphasizing task condition but not in the orientation emphasizing task condition. In a second study actual performance expectations were measured. For older participants only, expectations were sensitive to task-instructions and mediated the relation between tasks-instructions and performances. These findings suggest that observed age-related differences in memory performance may be significantly exaggerated by the testing situation and by a low memory self-efficacy and low memory performance expectancies prevalent among older adults. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.