Otto Hahn Research Group on Associative Memory in Old Age

The decline of cognitive functioning in old age has a negative impact on individuals’ well-being and independence (Park et al., 2002). Particular attention has been devoted to episodic memory (Tulving, 1972), the conscious remembrance of events that are situated in time and place. Older adults display specific difficulties in remembering associative information (such as combining a face and a name; e.g., Old & Naveh-Benjamin, 2008). This associative deficit might be one reason why older adults typically gain less from memory training than younger adults and children (e.g., Brehmer et al., 2007), as such procedures often require the binding together of two elements into a coherent representation. In addition to mean age differences, large inter-individual differences in binding performance have been observed in late life. Although some older adults have severe problems in remembering associated information, others show quite proficient performance (e.g., Lövdén et al., 2012; Nyberg et al., 2003).

The main research goal of this OHG project is to further our knowledge regarding inter-individual differences in associative memory in old age. Why are some older adults quite good at remembering associative information while others are not? We are specifically interested in (a) cognitive, social, and lifestyle factors, (b) structural and functional brain correlates, and (c) genetic markers accounting for inter-individual differences in associative memory functioning. In addition, we are interested in the relation between associative memory and successful aging: Are older adults with good associative memory performance more similar to younger adults regarding performance and brain structure/function than older adults with a clear associative deficit?

In 2008, Yvonne Brehmer received the Max Planck Society's Otto Hahn Medal for outstanding scientific achievements. She was also awarded one of three Otto Hahn Groups, which are funded by the Max Planck Society and enable junior scientists to establish their own research group after a period of research abroad. The funding of the group lasts for five years and will expire in November 2017.


Research Group Leader
Yvonne Brehmer
brehmer [at] mpib-berlin [dot] mpg [dot] de

Selected Publications

Brehmer, Y., Shing, Y. L., Heekeren, H. R., Lindenberger, U., & Bäckman, L. (2016). Training-induced changes in subsequent memory effects: No major differences among children, younger adults, and older adults. NeuroImage, 131, 214–225. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.11.074

Bellander, M., Berggren, R., Mårtensson, J., Brehmer, Y., Wenger, E., Li, T.-Q., Bodammer, N. C., Shing, Y. L., Werkle-Bergner, M., Lindenberger, U., & Lövdén, M. (2016). Behavioral correlates of changes in hippocampal grey matter structure during acquisition of foreign vocabulary. NeuroImage, 131, 205–213. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.10.020

Becker, N., Laukka, E. J., Kalpouzos, G., Naveh-Benjamin, M., Bäckman, L., & Brehmer, Y. (2015). Structural brain correlates of associative memory in older adults. Neuroimage, 118, 146–153. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.06.002
Brehmer, Y., Kalpouzos, G., Wenger, E., & Lövdén, M. (2014). Plasticity of brain and cognition in older adults. Psychological Research, 78, 790–802. doi: 10.1007/s00426-014-0587-z
Brehmer, Y., Li, S.-C., Müller, V., v. Oertzen, T., & Lindenberger, U. (2007). Memory plasticity across the lifespan: Uncovering children's latent potential. Developmental Psychology, 43, 465–478. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.43.2.465