Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Processing Fluency Affects Subjective Claims of Recollection

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Processing Fluency Affects Subjective Claims of Recollection

Article excerpt

Previous studies that have used the remember-know paradigm to investigate subjective awareness in memory have shown that fluency manipulations have an impact on "know" responses but not on "remember" responses (e.g., Rajaram, 1993), a finding typically accounted for by invoking inferential processing in judgments of familiarity but not of recollection. However, in light of several researchers' criticisms of this procedure, as well as findings documenting the influence of processing fluency on various subjective judgments, the present study was conducted in order to investigate whether judgments of recollection might also be subject to inferential processes and not solely the product of conscious retrieval. When the standard remember-know procedure was used (Experiment 1), manipulations of perceptual fluency increased "know" responses but had no effect on "remember" responses, replicating previous findings. However, when an independent ratings method was employed (Higham & Vokey, 2004), manipulations of perceptual fluency (Experiment 2) and conceptual fluency (Experiment 3) reliably increased claims of both familiarity and recollection, suggesting that the conclusion that fluency affects only "know" responses may be an artifact of the standard remember-know procedure.

The seminal work of Tversky and Kahneman (1974) demonstrated how our everyday decision making is guided by the use of heuristics. In recent years, this line of thinking has been applied to the study of human memory, and it is now well established that a number of heuristics are used in making mnemonic judgments, such as recognition. One of the most frequently investigated heuristics in memory is the fluency heuristic (for a review, see Kelley & Rhodes, 2002). Beginning with the work of Jacoby and colleagues (e.g., Jacoby & Dallas, 1981; Jacoby & Whitehouse, 1989), the relative speed and ease with which stimulus information is processed has been implicated as a contributing factor in item recognition, with greater claims of recognition given to items that are processed fluently than to those that are processed less fluently. The general idea is as follows: Because repeated presentations of a stimulus generally result in facilitated processing of that stimulus (i.e., the phenomenon of repetition priming), fluent processing is interpreted as a sign of prior experience and therefore serves as a cue for recognition.

Importantly, however, processing fluency may arise from sources other than repetition, and as such, it has been shown to influence a number of nonmemorial judgments as well. For instance, fluency has been shown to affect judgments concerning stimulus duration (see, e.g., Masson & Caldwell, 1998), brightness (e.g., Mandler, Nakamura, & Van Zandt, 1987), likability (e.g., Reber, Winkielman, & Schwarz, 1998; Reber, Zimmermann, & Wurtz, 2004), truthfulness (e.g., Hasher, Attig, & Alba, 1981; Hasher, Goldstern, & Toppino, 1977), feelings of knowing (e.g., Begg, Robertson, Gruppuso, Anas, & Needham, 1996; Westerman & Greene, 1999), and even fame (e.g., Jacoby, Kelley, Brown, & Jasechko, 1989; Jacoby, Woloshyn, & Kelley, 1989), with the effects of fluency determined in these cases by individuals' interpretations of the source of fluent processing (i.e., whether fluent processing is seen as being due to past experience, inherent properties of the stimulus, or some other source entirely; Jacoby, Kelley, & Dywan, 1989; Jacoby & Whitehouse, 1989; Whittlesea, 1993).

The findings described previously suggest that many of our everyday decisions-both memorial and nonmemorial-are influenced by our interpretation of factors that could plausibly give rise to fluent stimulus processing (e.g., prior exposure vs. stimulus attributes). However, within the realm of recognition memory, it is commonly accepted that recognition decisions can be based on either familiarity or recollection (see, e. …

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