The current project investigates the role of executive control ability in the retrieval of emotional autobiographical memories in healthy aging. Understanding autobiographical memory in healthy aging is of great importance due to the fundamental role these memories play in the daily functioning and personal wellbeing of older adults. This project will examine how executive control ability (as measured by three tests that examine different aspects of executive control) may factor into older adults'ability to retrieve specific autobiographical information. A majority of previous studies on specific memory retrieval have employed paradigms in which participants were restricted in their retrieval by instructions that required a particular level of memory specificity. In these tasks, participants must rely heavily on their executive control ability to fulfill task demands. To address this issue, Experiment 1 utilizes two autobiographical memory tasks that require differing degrees of executive control. This experiment will expand previous findings that older adults consistently retrieve overly general memories by determining whether this pattern holds when the memory task does not require as many executive control processes. Experiment 2 will compare young and older adults with low and high executive control ability on their autobiographical memory specificity using a novel paradigm with low executive control requirements. Executive control has previously been identified as a key factor in autobiographical memory specificity, but using only restricted retrieval paradigms. Experiment 2 will examine whether executive function is an important factor in more naturalistic retrieval. Finally, Experiment 3 will compare the functional-neuroanatomical correlates of unrestricted autobiographical memory retrieval in young and older adults. Such a comparison will identify how neuroanatomical changes in healthy aging may contribute to changes in behavioral reports of personal memories. Understanding the ways in which executive control ability can alter autobiographical memory in healthy aging can help researchers confront this decline, an issue that is of great importance to the older adult community.

Public Health Relevance

The current project investigates the impact of executive control ability on the retrieval of emotional autobiographical memories in healthy aging. Previous studies have demonstrated that older adults tend to retrieve autobiographical memories that are less specific than those of younger adults. In these studies, task instructions restrict participants'retrieval to a particular level of memory. The current project uses an unrestricted retrieval paradigm to investigate the role of executive control ability in retrieval of autobiographical memories using behavioral and functional neuroimaging techniques.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F12A-R (20))
Program Officer
King, Jonathan W
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Chapel Hill
United States
Zip Code
Ford, Jaclyn H; Rubin, David C; Giovanello, Kelly S (2016) The effects of song familiarity and age on phenomenological characteristics and neural recruitment during autobiographical memory retrieval. Psychomusicology 26:199-210
Ford, Jaclyn Hennessey; Rubin, David C; Giovanello, Kelly S (2014) Effects of task instruction on autobiographical memory specificity in young and older adults. Memory 22:722-36