Logo: Deutsches Institut für Internationale Pädagogische Forschung


Outside of the laboratory

Associations of working-memory performance with psychological and physiological arousal vary with age

We investigated age differences in associations among self-reported experiences of tense and energetic arousal, physiological activation indicated by heart rate, and working-memory performance in everyday life.

The sample comprised 92 participants aged 14-83 years. Data were collected for 24 hr while participants pursued their normal daily routines. Participants wore an ambulatory biomonitoring system that recorded their cardiac and physical activity. Using mobile phones as assessment devices, they also provided an average of 7 assessments of their momentary experiences of tense arousal (feeling nervous) and energetic arousal (feeling wide-awake) and completed 2 trials of a well-practiced working-memory task.

Experiences of higher energetic arousal were associated with higher heart rate in participants younger than 50 years of age but not in participants older than that, and energetic arousal was unrelated to within-person fluctuations in working-memory performance. Experiences of tense arousal were associated with higher heart rate independent of participants' age. Tense arousal and physiological activation were accompanied by momentary impairments in working-memory performance in middleaged and older adults but not in younger individuals.

Results suggest that psychological arousal experiences are associated with lower working-memory performance in middle-aged and older adults when they are accompanied by increased physiological activation and that the same is true for physiological activation deriving from other influences. Hence, age differences in cognitive performance may be exaggerated when the assessment situation itself elicits tense arousal or occurs in situations with higher physiological arousal arising from affective experiences, physical activity, or circadian rhythms.

Riediger, Michaela; Wrzus, Cornelia; Klipker, Kathrin; Müller, Viktor; Schmiedek, Florian; Wagner, Gert:
Outside of the laboratory, in: Psychology and Aging, 29 (2014) 1, 103-114

last modified Aug 03, 2015