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Age and sex effects on facets of topographical memory of highly familiar environments
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 16:47 authored by Jamie I. Campbell
Topographical memory is a multifaceted construct that encompasses memory for environments, landmarks and routes. While research suggests that age and sex influence topographical memory in non-human animals, the impact of these variables on topographical memory in humans is less clear, especially in the context of highly familiar (as opposed to newly-learned) environments. The aim of the research reported in the current thesis was to examine age and sex differences in topographical memory of environments that had been familiarised over years and decades, across three papers. The first paper comprises a systematic review of the literature conducted in order to evaluate the evidence of age and sex differences in topographical memory. A search yielded 11 studies that examined age differences and 34 studies that examined sex differences in topographical memory. For newly-learned environments, the review found consistent evidence of age and sex differences (in favour of males and younger adults) on some tasks of memory of environmental configurations. Age differences (in favour of younger adults) were also found on all tasks of route memory. For highly familiar environments, the studies were few in number and the findings were inconsistent. The second paper of this thesis presents an empirical study that examines age and sex differences in topographical memory of an environment highly familiar to participants (i.e. Sydney). Sixty-three healthy adults, ranging between 20 and 79 years of age, completed the Sydney City Test of Topographical Memory (SCTTM; Hepner, 2006), in addition to several spatial and verbal cognitive tasks. The study found no significant age or sex effects on the ability to name Sydney landmarks from photographs, localise landmarks on a map of the Sydney central business district, or describe how to get from one Sydney landmark to another. On the other hand, a curvilinear relationship was found for males in the ability to determine cardinal directions and determine the directions of landmarks from a vantage point depicted in a photograph, with highest performance at middle-age. In the case of females, a linear decline was found between age and ability to determine directions of landmarks, while no relationship was found between age and ability to determine cardinal directions. Correlations were found between several cognitive tasks and SCTTM subtests, and these are detailed in the paper. The third paper of this thesis examined the utility of the SCCTM in detecting topographical memory impairments in a 38 year old male anterior temporal lobectomy patient who had complained of topographical memory problems following surgery. TA‟s performance on the SCTTM was compared to 10 normal male participants of similar age and familiarity with the target environment and also in relation to the large-group SCTTM data developed in the second paper. TA was found to perform poorly on all SCCTM subtests, highlighting the value of the SCCTM in profiling topographical memory in a left temporal lobectomy patient. Implications of the three papers and future research direction are discussed.