Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Individual Differences in Shifting Decision Criterion: A Recognition Memory Study

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Individual Differences in Shifting Decision Criterion: A Recognition Memory Study

Article excerpt

Published online: 4 May 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract An ability to flexibly shifta decision criterion can be advantageous. For example, a known change in the base rate of targets and distractors on a recognition memory test will lead optimal decision makers to shifttheir criterion accordingly. In the present study, 95 individuals participated in two recognition memory tests that included periodic changes in the base rate probability that the test stimulus had been presented during the study session. The results reveal a wide variability in the tendency to shiftdecision criterion in response to this probability information, with some appropriately shifting and others not shifting at all. However, participants were highly reliable in their tendency to shiftcriterion across tests. The goal of the present study was to explain what factors account for these individual differences. To accomplish this, over 50 variables were assessed for each individual (e.g., personality, cognitive style, state of mind). Using a regression model that incorporated different sets of factors, over 50 % of the variance was accounted for. The results of the analysis describe the total, direct, and mediating effects on criterion shifting from factors that includememory strength, strategy, and inherent characteristics such as a fun-seeking personality, a negative affect, and military rank. The results are discussed with respect to understanding why participants rarely chose an optimal decision-making strategy and provide greater insight into the underlying mechanisms of recognition memory.

Keywords Memory * Decision making * Individual differences * Recognition


Shifts in decision criteria are common, and, at times, this is the optimal strategy to utilize. Moreover, decision criteria play an important role in recognition memory and have important implications in the explanations of memory performance. However, individual differences in criterion shifting have been largely neglected in the research. In particular, large variations in criterion shifting between individuals could constrain the possible mechanisms underlying criterion placement in recognition memory, or it could suggest that individuals utilize different mechanisms when performing a memory test. In addition, large variations in criterion shifting could also explain some of the inconsistencies that have been reported in the field (Hockley, 2011). Given the strong influence of decision criterion on the underlying mechanism of recognition performance, it is critical to understand why some individuals shiftcriterion, whereas others do not. This study examines different factors, including inherent characteristics of an individual, that may mediate the willingness to shifta decision criterion and, thus, give rise to individual differences in the tendency to shiftcriterion during a recognition memory test.

To decide whether or not a test item has been studied previously, it is thought that individuals weigh the available evidence against a decision criterion (e.g., a threshold of familiarity). Where the criterion is placed on an axis of evidence strength can clearly affect the decision outcome, with a liberal criterion designating more test items as targets and a conservative criterion designating more test items as distractors. Optimal performance on a recognition test may be defined as maximizing correct responses (hits and correct rejections; see Green & Swets, 1966). To maximize correct responses when the base rate of targets is very high (i.e., the test item is likely to be from the study session), the individual should utilize a liberal bias (i.e., respond that most items are old), and vice versa when the base rate is very low. When the base rate of targets knowingly changes during the course of a test, optimal performance requires that the criterion should shiftrather than stay static. That is, optimal decision makers will require more evidence in order to recognize an unlikely target and less evidence to recognize a likely target (Green & Swets, 1966; Macmillan & Creelman, 2005). …

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