Effect of age on spatial memory performance in real museum vs. computer simulation

Maria Korman, Patrice L. Weiss, Michal Hochhauser, Rachel Kizony

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Healthy older adults frequently complain on difficulty in recalling the locations of objects of everyday use. Cognitive abilities decline with normal aging; inefficiencies of information processing, as well as deterioration of neuronal structures, may impede the performance of complex cognitive skills such as spatial memory. Extraneous, task-irrelevant cognitive load in real environments is usually high and might interfere with spatial memory abilities of older adults. The purpose of this study was to determine (1) the extent to which older adults maintain their cognitive capacity during a spatial memory task as compared to young adults and (2) whether this capacity is affected by performance of the task in a real environment setting where the cognitive demands are similar to a simulation, but the physical demands (navigating via walking versus via a mouse) vary. Methods: In the museum, participants physically moved between display stations to locate hidden tokens performing a task in which an ongoing representation of previous searches had to be remembered. A comparable task was implemented via mouse actions on a computer simulation. Seventeen healthy older (60-80 years) and twenty younger (20-45 years) adults performed both tasks in a counterbalanced order. Results: The younger group was superior to the older group in terms of success rate and completion time for both conditions. All participants performed better during the simulated task. The delta between the total performance score in the two settings of the older group was significantly larger as compared to the younger group, suggesting a differential impact of setting on the groups. Conclusions: Our results highlight the importance and feasibility of experimentation in ecologically relevant settings: differences were found in the way the cognitive performance of older and younger adults was affected by setting. Older adults appear to preserve basic cognitive abilities required for successful performance of object-location memory tasks. However, real museum setting appeared to impose higher demands on the older adults.

Original languageEnglish
Article number165
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 13 Jun 2019


  • Aging
  • Cognitive abilities
  • Real-world setting
  • Simulation
  • Spatial working memory


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