Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Are Awareness Questionnaires Valid? Investigating the Use of Posttest Questionnaires for Assessing Awareness in Implicit Memory Tests

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Are Awareness Questionnaires Valid? Investigating the Use of Posttest Questionnaires for Assessing Awareness in Implicit Memory Tests

Article excerpt

Two experiments-one employing a perceptual implicit memory test and the other a conceptual implicit memory test-investigated the validity of posttest questionnaires for determining the incidence of awareness in implicit memory tests. In both experiments, a condition in which none of the studied words could be used as test responses (i.e., the none-studied condition) was compared with a standard implicit test condition. Results showed that reports of awareness on the posttest questionnaire were much less frequent in the none-studied condition than in the standard condition. This was especially true after deep processing at study. In both experiments, 83% of the participants in the none-studied condition stated they were unaware even though there were strong demands for claiming awareness. Although there was a small bias in the questionnaire (i.e., 17% of the participants in the none-studied condition stated they were aware), overall, there was strong support for the validity of awareness questionnaires.

The distinction between explicit and implicit memory (Graf & Schacter, 1985) has intrigued researchers for over 3 decades (e.g., Warrington & Weiskrantz, 1970, 1974). In explicit memory tests, participants are asked to retrieve information to which they had previously been exposed. For example, in stem-cued recall tests, participants are given the first three letters of words (i.e., stems) and are instructed to respond with studied words that begin with those letters. In contrast, in implicit memory tests, participants are given a task on which performance can be enhanced by prior exposure to information, but they are not asked to retrieve the prior information. For example, in stem completion tests, the stimuli are the same as those in the stem-cued recall test, but participants are instructed to respond with the first word that comes to mind. Usually, instructions for stem completion tests simply do not mention the prior portions of the experiment. In such tests, participants display priming in that they will more often respond with a word if they have studied it than if they have not. A number of researchers have argued that the distinction between explicit and implicit memory tests can be used to reveal differences between different types of memory retrieval mechanisms, variously characterized as intentional versus unintentional (e.g., Schacter, 1987), voluntary versus involuntary (e.g., Richardson-Klavehn, Gardiner, & Java, 1994), controlled versus automatic (e.g., Jacoby, 1991), or conscious versus nonconscious (Tulving & Schacter, 1990).

However, it should be noted that there is nothing to prevent participants with intact memory, while they are completing a typical implicit memory test, from becoming aware that they are using information to which they have been previously exposed. For example, imagine that the stemfla was presented in a stem completion test and the first word that came to mind was a word that had been presented earlier, such as flash. Participants may become aware that they have produced a studied word only after they have produced the word. This has been referred to as involuntary explicit memory (e.g., Schacter, 1987; Schacter, Bowers, & Booker, 1989) or involuntary aware memory (e.g., Kinoshita, 2001; Richardson-Klavehn etal., 1994). Often, participants displaying involuntary aware memory are simply described as test aware (Bowers & Schacter, 1990).

Moreover, once participants become aware that they are retrieving studied words, there is nothing-besides being instructed to use the first word that comes to mind-to prevent them from intentionally retrieving those words. That is, once participants become aware that they are using previously studied words such as flash to complete the stems, they may engage in a variety of strategies that constitute a shift away from saying the first word that comes to mind and toward intentionally responding with studied words. …

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