Recent research has shown that false memories can have a positive consequence on human cognition in both children and young adults. The present experiment investigated whether false memories could have similar positive effects by priming solutions to insight-based problems in healthy older adults and people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Participants were asked to solve compound remote associate task (CRAT) problems, half of which had been preceded by the presentation of Deese/Roediger-McDermott (DRM) lists whose critical lures were also the solutions to those problems.
The results showed that regardless of cognitive ability, when the critical lure was falsely recognized, CRAT problems were solved more often and reliably faster than problems that were not primed by a DRM list. When the critical lure was not falsely recognized, CRAT problem solution rates and times were no different from when there was no DRM priming.
These findings are consistent with predictions from theories of associative activation and demonstrate the importance of automatic spreading activation processes in memory across the lifespan.