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It is increasingly recognised that spatial contextual long-term memory (LTM) prepares neural activity for guiding visuo-spatial attention in a proactive manner. In the current study, we investigated whether the decline in explicit memory observed in healthy ageing would compromise this mechanism. We compared the behavioural performance of younger and older participants on learning new contextual memories, on orienting visual attention based on these learnt contextual associations, and on explicit recall of contextual memories. We found a striking dissociation between older versus younger participants in the relationship between the ability to retrieve contextual memories versus the ability to use these to guide attention to enhance performance on a target-detection task. Older participants showed significant deficits in the explicit retrieval task, but their behavioural benefits from memory-based orienting of attention were equivalent to those in young participants. Furthermore, memory-based orienting correlated significantly with explicit contextual LTM in younger adults but not in older adults. These results suggest that explicit memory deficits in ageing might not compromise initial perception and encoding of events. Importantly, the results also shed light on the mechanisms of memory-guided attention, suggesting that explicit contextual memories are not necessary.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





67 - 78


Ageing, Contextual memory, Long-term memory, Spatial attention, Visual perception