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Everyday Memory

Laboratory Studies, Field Studies, The Importance Of Context

Everyday memory refers to memory operations that routinely occur in one's daily environment. Examples of everyday memory include remembering names, remembering plans for the day, recalling items that one needs to purchase at the grocery store, remembering to take medications, and remembering telephone numbers, directions, or recent newsworthy events. The hallmark of everyday memory and associated research, then, is that it involves the performance of tasks that occur naturalistically in the real world. This is in contrast to typical laboratory tasks on memory, in which individuals may be asked to do things not typical of what they do in the real world, such as memorize unrelated lists of words or pictures, remember to press a key when a certain word appears on a computer screen, or perform mental arithmetic and report a series of answers later.

It is important to recognize that everyday memory studies can occur both within the laboratory and outside of the laboratory. In laboratory studies, individuals are asked to perform memory tasks that they might perform every day on a daily basis in the real world—such as learn a list of groceries, remember phone numbers, or remember information from a news program. In field studies, individuals are tracked throughout their day, and their memory function on specific everyday tasks is recorded. For example, one could measure the accuracy with which an individual takes his or her medications over a period of time, using microelectronic monitors to track the behavior remotely. The advantages of laboratory studies of everyday memory are that the experimenter has very precise control over the conditions under which memory occurs and can precisely standardize the material to be remembered across individuals. The disadvantage of these studies is that laboratory environments cannot reflect all of the variables that operate on individuals in the real world and affect their everyday memory. The advantage of field or naturalistic studies is that one can study events of real consequence to the individual enrolled in the study, but the disadvantage is that the researcher has less control over and knowledge of what is going on in the naturalistic environment. Both types of studies will be discussed here.

Older adults tend to worry about some types of everyday memory performance but not others. For example, Reese et al. reported that older adults have few worries about remembering important dates but have considerable worry about difficulty remembering names. These authors reported that older adults' fear that declines in everyday memory functions could lead to a loss of independence. Thus, the topic of everyday memory function is one of concern to older adults, and the focus of their concern seems to be on everyday functions where they perform poorly.

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