Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Thinking about Memories for Everyday and Shocking Events: Do People Use Ease-of-Retrieval Cues in Memory Judgments?

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Thinking about Memories for Everyday and Shocking Events: Do People Use Ease-of-Retrieval Cues in Memory Judgments?

Article excerpt

Extant research shows that people use retrieval ease, a feeling-based cue, to judge how well they remember life periods. Extending this approach, we investigated the role of retrieval ease in memory judgments for single events. In Experiment 1, participants who were asked to recall many memories of an everyday event (New Year's Eve) rated retrieval as more difficult and judged their memory as worse than did participants asked to recall only a few memories. In Experiment 2, this ease-of-retrieval effect was found to interact with the shocking character of the remembered event: There was no effect when the event was highly shocking (i.e., learning about the attacks of September 11, 2001), whereas an effect was found when the event was experienced as less shocking (due either to increased distance to "9/11" or to the nonshocking nature of the event itself). Memory vividness accounted for additional variance in memory judgments, indicating an independent contribution of content-based cues in judgments of event memories.

Memory research has not only investigated the processes and contents of remembering, but also people's beliefs and judgments about how and what they remember (see, e.g., Herrmann, 1982; Koriat, 1993; Metcalfe, 2000; Nelson, 1992). A central memory judgment is the assessment of the quality of one's recollections. When people judge the quality of their memories, they estimate how well or how accurately they remember past experiences. When people believe that their memories are accurate and reliable, they will be more willing to draw conclusions from the remembered experiences and act accordingly (see Koriat & Goldsmith, 1996). In contrast, when people suspect that their recall is not accurate or reliable, they are more susceptible to social influence (e.g., Bless, Strack, & Walther, 2001). How do people arrive at such judgments? What information do they use to assess how well they remember a target event or episode? Two main classes of cues have been described: content-based and feeling-based cues (see Koriat & Levy-Sadot, 1999; Whittlesea & Leboe, 2000). On the one hand, people may consider the content of a retrieved memory, such as its vividness or visual details, to determine how well and how reliably they remember the target information (e.g., Conway, 1996; Johnson & Raye, 1981; Ross, Buehler, & Karr, 1998; Ross & MacDonald, 1997). On the other hand, people may base their memory judgments on feelings concerning their retrieval performance, such as the experienced ease of retrieving relevant information (e.g., Belli, Winkielman, Read, Schwarz, & Lynn, 1998; Benjamin, Bjork, & Schwartz, 1998; Kelley & Lindsay, 1993; Winkielman, Schwarz, & Belli, 1998). Whereas the use of retrieval ease has been demonstrated for entire life periods such as one's childhood (Belli et al., 1998; Winkielman et al., 1998), it is unclear whether rememberers refer to such a feeling-based cue in memory judgments for single events. The present research was conducted to investigate this open issue: Would rememberers use retrieval ease in judgments about memories for single events (i.e., episodic memories), even though such memories are characteristically different from memories for life periods?

There is little doubt that content-based cues can guide judgments about episodic or event memories. In contentbased memory judgments, the rememberer takes into account attributes of the memory itself, such as its vividness or perceptual details (Conway, 1996; Conway & Pleydell-Pearce, 2000; Johnson, Foley, Suengas, & Raye, 1988; Johnson, Hashtroudi, & Lindsay, 1993; Johnson & Raye, 1981; Ross & Mac Donald, 1997). Vivid imagery seems to play a central role in such judgments ( see Brewer, 1986; Conway, 1990; Conway & Pleydell-Pearce, 2000; Garry, Manning, Loftus, & Sherman, 1996; Rubin, 2005; Williams, Healy, & ElHs, 1999). For instance, Dewhurst and Conway (1994) demonstrated that memories are experienced as subjectively "real" when they contain vivid visual images. …

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