Both children and adults are more likely to remember information when they have control over their learning environment. Despite many demonstrations of this effect in the literature, it is still unclear how and why people are more likely to remember information that is obtained through their own actions rather than passively received. One possibility is that individuals are biased to remember the outcomes of their choices because doing so may often be beneficial. Having agency, or the ability to exert control, is valuable when individuals can act in an instrumental manner to achieve their goals. Preferentially encoding information encountered in such contexts may confer an advantage when making similar decisions in the future. However, it has not been directly examined whether modulating the value, or utility, of agency affects its mnemonic benefit. Additionally, the developmental trajectory of how the utility of agency affects memory is unclear. The current study examines whether the mnemonic benefit of agency is modulated by the utility of choice and whether this effect varies as a function of age. We tested 96 participants, ages 8 to 25, in a paradigm in which agency and its utility were separately manipulated at encoding. In contrast to previous studies, we did not find that simply having the ability to make a choice enhanced memory. Rather, when the utility of agency varied within the task, we only observed an agency-related memory benefit when the ability to choose had the greatest utility. This pattern was age-invariant, suggesting that this effect on memory is present in middle childhood and persists through adulthood.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Language and Linguistics
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Linguistics and Language
- Cognitive Neuroscience