New research with U3A Canterbury

Olivia Miller
Picture by Matt Wilson

A citizen science research project between Kent’s School of Psychology and the University of the Third Age (U3A) has been published in the journal ‘Memory’.

The University has a Memorandum of Understanding agreement with the U3A which sees its academics working with retired and semi-retired people in the Canterbury community. The psychology study, led by Louisa Salhi and Zara Bergstrom, explored whether older adults would show reductions in strategic memory processes in comparison with young adults. U3A members and undergraduate Kent students took part in the experiment, which required participants to carry out challenging word recognition tests.

Results showed that the older adults were just as likely to use strategic memory processes as the younger student participants, despite being on average 50 years older. General memory performance was also comparable across the age groups, which was unexpected based on previous research that has usually found that memory gets worse with older age. It is possible that the socially and cognitively stimulating lifestyle of U3A participants may underlie their good memory, or alternatively it could be the case that older people with good cognitive abilities are particularly likely to participate in lifelong learning opportunities.

This study is part of Kent’s commitment to working with its local communities, which involves strengthening links with organisations such as the U3A to promote the benefits of continual learning.

Louisa Salhi said: ‘Working with the Canterbury U3A on this research project was a great experience. From the initial design and training meetings to running the project and disseminating the results, the U3A research group were really involved and enthusiastic about the project. This brought the project alive and gave it meaning, especially as memory ability in older age was of great interest to the U3A members. It is fantastic that our research collaboration has now been published in a scientific journal, and we look forward to working with the U3A again in the future.’

Rona Hodges, Research Coordinator of U3A Canterbury, said: ‘There are several factors which made this a successful collaboration. Most universities only use U3A members as participants in studies when they need older people. However, the University of Kent recognised that this was losing the potential contribution which some of our members could make to the study, such as giving feedback at the design stage. We owe a lot to Dr Bergstrom and her team for realising the benefits to both parties in this collaboration, which was the first of its kind nationally.’

The research paper, titled ‘Intact strategic retrieval processes in older adults: no evidence for age-related deficits in sourceconstrained retrieval’ is published in ‘Memory’. DOI: