Washington, Jan 8 : While youngsters can weave up stories and imagine themselves as astronauts, politicians or even superheroes, older people are unable to do the same. A new Harvard University study revealed that this lack of imagination is because of declining memory in older people.
The researchers said that the ability of older adults to form imaginary scenarios is linked to their ability to recall detailed memories.
The study, led by Harvard psychologists Donna Rose Addis, found that episodic memory, representing our personal memories of past experiences, "allows individuals to project themselves both backward and forward in subjective time."
This means that, in order to create imagined future events, a person should be able to remember the details of previously experienced events. Then later extract various details and put them together to create an imaginary event, a process known as the constructive-episodic-simulation.
The researchers supported the hypothesis using an adapted version of the Autobiographical Interview in which young and older participants were made to respond to randomly selected cue words with past and future scenarios.
It was found that, in comparison to young adults, the older adults displayed a considerable decline in the use of internal episodic details to describe both past memories and imagined future events.
The findings of the study not only revealed the link between age-related memory insufficiencies and future planning in older adults, but also raised questions regarding the involvement of other types of memory.
The results of the study appear in the January 2008 issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.