The impact of stimulus configuration on visual short-term memory decline in normal aging and mild cognitive impairment

Raju P. Sapkota (Lead / Corresponding author), Ian van der Linde, Iris Q. Grunwald, Tirthalal Upadhyaya, Nirmal Lamichhane, Shahina Pardhan

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Introduction: When we memorize simultaneous items, we not only store information about specific items and/or their locations but also how items are related to each other. Such relational information can be parsed into spatial (spatial configuration) and identity (object configuration) components. Both these configurations are found to support performance during a visual short-term memory (VSTM) task in young adults. How the VSTM performance of older adults is influenced by object/spatial configuration is less understood, which this study investigated.

Methods: Twenty-nine young adults, 29 normally aging older adults, and 20 older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) completed two yes-no memory-recognition experiments for four simultaneously presented items (2.5 s). Test display items were presented either at the same locations as the memory items (Experiment 1) or were globally shifted (Experiment 2). One of the test display items (target) was highlighted with a square box; participants indicated whether this item was shown in the preceding memory display. Both experiments comprised four conditions where nontarget items changed as follows: (i) nontarget items remained the same; (ii) nontarget items were replaced by new items; (iii) nontarget items switched locations; (iv) nontarget items were replaced by square boxes.

Results: Performance (% correct) in both older groups was significantly reduced than young adults in both experiments and each condition. For the MCI adults, significantly reduced performance (vs. normal older adults) was found only for Experiment 1.

Conclusion: VSTM for simultaneous items declines significantly in normal aging; the decline is not influenced differently by spatial/object configuration change. The ability of VSTM to differentiate MCI from normal cognitive aging is apparent only where the spatial configuration of stimuli is retained at original locations. Findings are discussed in terms of the reduced ability to inhibit irrelevant items and location priming (by repetition) deficits.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3113
Number of pages10
JournalBrain and Behavior
Issue number9
Early online date8 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023


  • aging
  • amnestic-mild cognitive impairment
  • object configuration
  • spatial configuration
  • visual short-term memory


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