Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Memory and Recognition

Dunno why, but I find this fascinating -- a study of how well people of different ages recognize faces from either contemporary or historical figures. Younger subjects did better recognizing contemporary famous people, older subjects did better with "dated" famous people. No real surprise. What I find fascinating is how young adults better recalled "young" versus "old" familiar faces, and younger adults performed better than older ones when it came to "young" unfamiliar faces.

What's it all mean? As we get older, prior knowledge becomes harder to access to help us make sense of what we see.

How does this fit what people know? Turn this into a question of political knowledge and recognition of political actors and you see how older citizens, who often do well on these tests and have superior prior knowledge (based in part on experience), will struggle to make sense of new information as they have a hard time making use of all that experience and prior knowledge. It's there, but they have a hard time finding the facts or names to fit a familiar face -- be it politician or someone else in the news. As the news audience ages, especially for broadcast TV news but also for newspapers, we need to rethink how we tell stories to help the aging audience with the realities of difficult-to-access prior knowledge. It's there, we just need to learn ways to help them trigger that knowledge so they can better make sense of the stories we're telling.

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