Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Part-Set Cuing in Option Generation

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Part-Set Cuing in Option Generation

Article excerpt

Memory research on the part-set cuing effect has shown that providing some of the to-be-remembered items as cues is not always beneficial and, in some cases, may even hurt retrieval. However, part-set cuing has been sparsely investigated in option generation tasks. Thus, limited empirical evidence for the existence of the effect in option generation is available, and no convincing explanation has been provided yet. In order to fill these gaps, we carried out four experiments. In Experiment 1A, we observed a significant decrease in option generation performance when potential options were presented as cues. Experiment 1B showed that the effect can also be obtained in older adults. Experiments 2A and 2B provided evidence compatible with an inhibition-based explanation of the observed effects.

Imagine that you have received a [euro]30 coupon that can be used to purchase a book. In order to select a book to buy, you decide to write a list of potential authors. Before compiling the list, you notice on the table a leaflet from a bookstore that you received via postal mail some days ago. You think that the leaflet may offer useful hints, so you take a look at it and read a number of authors' names. Then you compile the list of potential authors and make your final choice. This simple scenario raises important questions about option generation and the role of decision options as retrieval cues. Does suggesting options reduce option generation capacity? If providing suggestions hurts generation, why does this happen? The experiments presented in this article were designed to answer these questions.

Memory research has shown that cues sometimes backfire. This phenomenon, puzzling for theories of associative retrieval, is known as part-set cuing. Recently, some researchers have hypothesized that part-set cuing may have a significant role in explaining decision-making phenomena, such as superadditivity in probabilistic judgment (Sloman, Rottenstreich, Wisniewski, Hadjichristidis, & Fox, 2004) and focusing in information acquisition (Del Missier, Ferrante, & Costantini, 2007). According to these researchers, presented cues (options) might affect option generation, indirectly influencing judgment and choice. The consequences of part-set cuing in decision making could be far-reaching, because option generation is a fundamental subprocess in many real-life contexts (e.g., medical diagnosis, technical or mechanical troubleshooting, memory-based consumer choice).

Although memory-based theories of decision making (such as decision by sampling [Stewart, Chater, & Brown, 2006] and HyGene [Thomas, Dougherty, Sprenger, & Harbison, 2008]) assign a central role to memory-sampling and associative-cuing processes, very few experimental studies have empirically investigated the influence of partset cuing on the generation of decision options. Thus, little evidence is available to support the presumed influence of part-set cuing on option generation. Moreover, no persuasive explanation for this effect in option generation has been empirically tested. In order to fill these gaps, we carried out four experiments. These will be presented after a brief review of research on part-set cuing in memory and option generation tasks.

Part-Set Cuing in Memory Research

Part-set cuing has been widely investigated in memory research. The majority of studies have used an episodic recall paradigm (e.g., Roediger, Stellon, & Tulving, 1977; Slamecka, 1968, 1969). In a typical experiment, two groups of participants study a list of words prior to a free recall task. Upon retrieval, some of the studied words are provided as cues to the participants in the experimental group (but not to the participants in the control group). Performance is evaluated by comparing the number of noncue words retrieved by the two groups.

The results obtained in these studies have depended on the number and type of cues presented. …

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