A matched group of 10 young and 10 old subjects were presented pure tones, neutral phrases, and phrases designed to be “charged” for the young and for the old subjects while continuous GSR recordings were obtained as a measure of CNS activity. The subjects were then interviewed by a technique structured to evaluate the degree of “memory” for the preceding experimental period, as well as the meaning of and the affective response to the test situation and stimuli.
Arousing expressions appeared to facilitate the older subjects' memories by allowing them to form highly personalized associations. The expressions causing the highest level of arousal in the young subjects were associated with a high degree of “forgetting,” which appeared to be analogous to various psychological defenses such as repression and denial, in spite of the fact that the young subjects' over-all recognition was superior to that of the older subjects.
The data suggested that the “cognitive” results were influenced by the old subjects' perception of the experiment as a test of their intellectual capabilities and the young subjects' perception of the experiment as an attempt to uncover information about their feelings, impulses, and values.
The results indicated that studies assessing perceptual and cognitive functions should take into consideration the influence of: (1) reception and conduction of specific sensory inputs; (2) the level of nonspecific CNS activation; and (3) the psychological adaptive mechanisms activated by the psychodynamic implications of the experimental stimuli and the emotional arousal produced.
Received May 2, 1960
Copyright © 1961 by American Psychosomatic Society