Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Relating Familiarity-Based Recognition and the Tip-of-the-Tongue Phenomenon: Detecting a Word's Recency in the Absence of Access to the Word

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Relating Familiarity-Based Recognition and the Tip-of-the-Tongue Phenomenon: Detecting a Word's Recency in the Absence of Access to the Word

Article excerpt

After viewing a list of single-word answers to general knowledge questions, participants received a test list containing general knowledge questions, some of whose answers were studied, and some of whose were not Regardless of whether participants could provide the answer to a test question, they rated the likelihood that the answer had been studied. Across three experiments, participants consistently gave higher ratings to unanswerable questions whose answers were studied than to those whose answers were not studied. This discrimination ability persisted in the absence of reported tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) states and when no information about the answer could be articulated. Studying a question's answer did not increase the likelihood of a later TOT state for that question, yet participants gave higher recognition ratings when in a TOT state than when not in a TOT state. A possible theoretical mechanism for the present pattern is discussed, as are relevant theories of familiarity-based recognition and of the TOT phenomenon.

The Dual-Process Approach to Recognition

Dual-process theorists of recognition claim that a recognition judgment can be based either on recollection (the bringing to mind of specifics about a prior occurrence) or a feeling of familiarity (see Yonelinas, 2002, for a review of the dual-process approach). The present study is concerned with the latter basis of recognition. This study examines whether processes acting upon information in one's semantic knowledge store can underlie familiarity signals that can, in turn, be used to discriminate between recently and nonrecently presented items. In so doing, this study also attempts to relate familiarity-based recognition to the tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) phenomenon.

Familiarity-Based Recognition: On the Origin of the Familiarity Signal

According to early uses of signal detection theory, the familiarity signals used in recognition stem directly from processes acting upon existing representations in the general knowledge store. In his classic book on learning and memory, Crowder (1976, p. 373) described the basic idea underlying this approach to familiarity:

The idea was that when it must be determined which of two words occurred more recently in a series, the decision could be based on which of the two traces is the stronger, as younger traces, on the average, would be stronger than older traces. The strength theory resembles the tagging theory in that episodic memory is portrayed as a transient modification of semantic memory, but the modification is not a labeling or tagging. Instead, there is an adjustment of some continuously variable quantity, strength, which is a property of each semantic memory location.

As noted by Crowder (pp. 373-376; see also Yonelinas, 2002, pp. 443-444), Atkinson and Juola (1974) were among the first to use this approach. Memory representations (i.e., word representations) were said to vary in strength or familiarity. This preexperimental or baseline variability in familiarity is represented by the spread of the signal and noise distributions shown in Figure 1. Studied items receive a boost in familiarity, such that the familiarity distribution for studied items is shifted to the right on the familiarity continuum. Thus, on average, studied items will have greater familiarity values than unstudied items, and familiarity-based discrimination between studied and unstudied items can occur through criterion placement.

The idea that familiarity-based discrimination between studied and unstudied items can result from processes acting upon existing semantic knowledge structures can be seen in recent models of recognition as well. For example, the source of activation confusion (SAC) model (e.g., Ayers & Reder, 1998; Reder et al., 2000; Reder & Schunn, 1996) is a dual-process model with separate mechanisms for familiarity-based and recollection-based recognition. Here, the activation level of a given word node underlies the familiarity signal used to give a familiarity-based recognition judgment to that test word on a recognition test. …

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