Mistaking the recent past for the present: False seeing by older adults. Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Results of three experiments revealed that older, as compared to young, adults are more reliant on context when "seeing" a briefly flashed word that was preceded by a prime. In a congruent condition, the prime was the same word as flashed (e.g., DIRT dirt) whereas in an incongruent condition, the prime differed in a single letter from the word that was flashed (DART dirt). Following their attempt to identify the flashed word, participants were asked to report whether they had "seen" the flashed word or, instead, had responded on some other basis (knowing or guessing). Older adults showed dramatically higher false seeing by reporting the prime on incongruent trials and claiming to have seen it flashed. This was true even though a titration procedure was used to equate the performance of young and older adults on baseline trials which did not provide a biasing context. Results of Experiment 3 related age differences in false seeing to willingness to respond when given the option to withhold responses. Convergence of results with those showing higher false memory and false hearing are interpreted as evidence that older adults are less able to avoid misleading effects of context. That lessened ability may be associated with decline in frontal lobe functioning.


  • Jacoby, Larry L
  • Rogers, Chad S
  • Bishara, Anthony J
  • Shimizu, Yujiro

publication date

  • March 2012