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With pursuit of incremental progress and generalizability of findings in mind, we examined a possible boundary for older and younger adults’ metacognitive distinction between what is not stored in memory versus merely inaccessible with materials that are not process pure to knowledge or events: information regarding news events. Participants were asked questions about public events such as celebrity news, tragedies, and political events that were widely experienced in the previous 10–12 years, responding “I don’t know” (DK) or “I don’t remember” (DR) when retrieval failed. Memories of these events are relatively recently acquired in rich, naturalistic contexts and are likely not fully separated from episodic details. When retrieval failed, DR items were recognized with higher accuracy than DK items, both immediately and 2 years later, confirming that self-reported not remembering reflects failures of accessibility, whereas not knowing better captures a lack of availability. In fact, older adults distinguished between the causes of retrieval failures more precisely than younger adults. Together, these findings advance the reliability, validity, and generalizability of using DR and DK as a metacognitive tool to address the phenomenological experience and behavioral consequences of retrieval failures of information that contains both semantic and episodic features. Implications for metacognition in aging and related constructs like familiarity, remembering, and knowing are discussed.

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Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications





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