Fixation reinstatement supports visuospatial memory in older adults


Research using eye movement monitoring suggests that recapitulating the pattern of eye movements made during stimulus encoding at subsequent retrieval supports memory by reinstating the spatial layout of the encoded stimulus. In the present study, the authors investigated whether recapitulation of encoding fixations during a poststudy, stimulus-free delay period—an effect that has been previously linked to memory maintenance in younger adults— can support mnemonic performance in older adults. Older adults showed greater delay-period fixation reinstatement than younger adults, and this reinstatement supported age-equivalent performance on a subsequent visuospatial-memory-based change detection task, whereas in younger adults, the performance-enhancing effects of fixation reinstatement increased with task difficulty. Taken together, these results suggest that fixation reinstatement might reflect a compensatory response to increased cognitive load. The present findings provide novel evidence of compensatory fixation reinstatement in older adults and demonstrate the utility of eye movement monitoring for aging and memory research. Public Significance Statement Eye movements can be used to boost memory. Here, we show that when asked to remember the locations of objects within a scene, older adults will spontaneously rehearse the locations by looking with their eyes at the spaces that had been previously occupied by those objects. This gaze pattern supports subsequent memory performance. This study enhances our understanding of the role eye movements play in memory and establishes eye-movement monitoring as a useful method in aging research.

Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance