Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Visual Similarity Effects on Short-Term Memory for Order: The Case of Verbally Labeled Pictorial Stimuli

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Visual Similarity Effects on Short-Term Memory for Order: The Case of Verbally Labeled Pictorial Stimuli

Article excerpt

Four experiments examined the effect of visual similarity on immediate memory for order. Experiments 1 and 2 used easily nameable line drawings. Following a sequential presentation in either silent or suppression conditions, participants were presented with the drawings in a new, random order and were required to remember their original serial position. In Experiment 3, participants first learned to associate a verbal label with an abstract matrix pattern. Then they completed an immediate memory task in which they had to name the matrices aloud during presentation. At recall, the task required remembering either the order of the matrices or the order of their names. In Experiment 4, participants learned to associate nonword labels with schematic line drawings of faces; the phonemic similarity of the verbal labels was also manipulated. All four experiments indicate that the representations supporting performance comprise both verbal and visual features. The results are consistent with a multiattribute encoding view.

In his seminal paper, Crowder( 1979) argued that similarity was an "all-purpose memory tool" and went on to discuss how similarity manipulations had a long and rich history in memory research. More recent examples of the importance of similarity-and of its counterpart, distinctiveness-in memory research abound (see, e.g., Hunt & Worthen, 2006, for a review, as well as Avons & Mason, 1999, and Jones, Farrand, Stuart, & Morris, 1995, for relevant examples), Similarity and distinctiveness have been central to memory research and theorizing mainly because similarity manipulations provide a window into the nature of the representations that are the stuff of memory. Simply put, if similarity along a given dimension has an effect on memory performance, information about this dimension must somehow be represented in the memory system.

This article is concerned with the nature of the representations that support immediate memory. More specifically, the objective of the reported experiments was to investigate the role of visual characteristics in the processing of stimuli that can be verbally labeled. Hence, we set out to determine if a reliable visual similarity effect could be obtained in an immediate memory task when the to-beremembered visual items were also verbally encoded.

One of the benchmark effects in this area is that memory over the short term is influenced by phonemic similarity (Baddeley, 1966; V Coltheart, 1993; Conrad & Hull, 1964; Crowder, 1979; Poirier & Saint- Aubin, 1996). For example, the recall of a list of rhyming words is worse than the recall of a list containing words that do not rhyme, The classic interpretation of this finding is that in order for similarity along the phonemic dimension to have an effect, the representations called upon must maintain some of the phonemic characteristics of the to-be-recalled items.

Importantly, on the basis of this effect, many of the better established models of short-term memory assume that phonemic information dominates verbal representations in short-term memory tasks (Baddeley, 1 986; Baddeley & Hitch, 1974; Nairne, 1988, 1990; Neath & Nairne, 1995). Whether or not parallel visual similarity effects can be demonstrated is important, because such effects would indicate that the nature of the representations supporting verbal short-term memory are more complex or general than previously thought (Frick, 1985).

From a theoretical viewpoint, a number of proposals predict that visual similarity should have an effect on the immediate recall of verbal material presented in the visual modality. In the typical immediate memory task, participants are asked to recall verbatim a short list of words immediately after their presentation. More elaborate or richer encoding is usually considered a predictor of enhanced memory performance. Schiano and Watkins (1981) reported evidence that is consistent with this suggestion in an experiment in which they compared immediate serial recall performance for printed words and nameable pictures in a number of conditions. …

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