Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Effects of Age, Gender, and Culture on Memory and Attention

                              Effects of Age on Memory and Attention

Children's memory increases because of the effects of rehearsal, speed of processing information, experience, and overall brain development, although the accuracy of memory may not be developed until much later in middle and late childhood (Santrock, 2008). Children are prone to the power of suggestion, wherein an adult can plant memories in the child by describing or discussing an event (Santrock, 2008).

Attention develops with age as well. Infants and young children may fixate on novel experiences and objects, although attention develops later in childhood and throughout adolescence (and further). The cognitive capacity to attend to tasks decreases with age (late adulthood), however, especially as complexity increases (Santrock, 2008). In effect, as adults age, it becomes more difficult to effectively multi-task - age effects the ability to attend to a variety of tasks simultaneously. Although older adults may function adequately when performing tasks with undivided attention, when attention is divided, they perform less effectively (Santrock, 2008).

Aging also effects memory. As brain structures shrink, older adults have a slightly limited capacity to remember. Santrock (2008), however, found that although the speed of semantic memory declines, the ability to ultimately retrieve the memory does not. Furthermore, implicit memory is not usually affected by age (Santrock, 2008). Working memory, processing speed, and episodic memory tends to suffer the greatest deficits in late adulthood (Santrock, 2008).

                           The Effects of Culture on Attention and Memory
For the most part, humans are selective with their attention and memory, and culture affects the selection process (Chentsova-Dutton & Tsai, 2010; Grossmann, Ellsworth, & Hong, 2012). For example, Grossmann, Ellsworth and Hong (2012) studied members of Russian culture who typically display overtly melancholy behavior. The Russians were more inclined to focus on the negative aspects of circumstances than might ordinarily be expected (Grossmann, Ellsworth, & Hong, 2012). These authors suggest cultural differences, as they affect attention, may have to do with how cultures manage impressions and stereotypes in general as well as what is of consequence in the particular culture. Grossmann, Ellsworth, & Hong (2012) discussed Americans' proclivity toward seeming happy and content. Because being happy and content is valued in American culture, people develop an intrinsic mechanism that helps them feel as if they are successful members of the culture (Grossmann, Ellsworth & Hong, 2012).

The effects of culture produce varied responsiveness to "objects, events, and strategies, which in turn can influence the nature of memory" (Santrock, 2008, p. 260). In basic terms, it states that cultural experiences have a significant impact in thought processes, specifically in determining significance in an individual's life, consequently influencing what the individual will remember. For example, In the USA, holidays such as Christmas (or other similar religious celebrations) are significant. Families create tradition that is carried through generations. Many people recall the events surrounding this holiday because such importance is placed thereon. Ishii, Reyes, and Kitayama, (2003) gave primacy to culture over language, however, they pointed out that it is through language socialization that cultures transfer meaning to children and in this way preferences and responses are transferred and perpetuated. So, not only culture, but language itself contributes to how individuals respond and remember (Ishii, Reyes, & Kitayama, 2003).

The Effects of Gender on Memory and Attention
Gender affects memory as well, evidenced by observing females perform less effectively on visuo-spacial tasks compared to their male counterparts. Females do however, perform similarly on passive tasks that include less higher level thought processes such as complex mental images (Cattaneo, Postma, & Vecchi, 2006). For the most part, the differences did not appear significant enough to unequivocally state the difference (Cattaneo, Postma, & Vecchi, 2006). There is not enough research to state significant differences in either direction (Silverman & Eals, 1992). It may be safe to say that gender does, in fact affect memory, although exactly how it affects it needs further research. Cattaneo, Postma, and Vecchi (2006) formulated their findings on adults between the ages of 20-37, so they cannot be applied to all age groups. Regarding gender and attention, although boys seem to have higher levels of ADHD symptoms, generalizations about the effects of gender on attention cannot be inferred from Thorell and Rydell (2008).


Cattaneo, Z., Postma, A., & Vecchi, T. (2006). Gender differences in memory for object and word locations. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 59(5), 904–919.

Chentsova-Dutton, Y. E., & Tsai, J. L. (2010). Self-focused attention and emotional reactivity: The role of culture. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(3), 507-519. doi: 10.1037/a0018534

Grossman, I., Ellsworth, P. C., & Hong, Y. Y. (2012). Culture, attention, and emotion. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141(1), 31-36.

Ishii, K., Reyes, J. A., & Kitayama, S. (2003). Spontaneous attention to word content versus emotional tone: Differences among three cultures. Psychological Science, 14(1), 39-46. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.01416

Silverman, I., & Eals, M. (1992). Sex differences in spatial abilities: Evolutionary theory and data. In J. Barkow, I. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adaptive mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture (pp. 533–549). New York: Oxford University Press.

Thorell, L. B., & Rydell, A-M. (2008). Behaviour problems and social competence deficits associated with symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Effects of age and gender. Child: Care, Health and Development, 34(5), 584– 595. 

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