Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Response Bias in Recognition Memory as a Cognitive Trait

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Response Bias in Recognition Memory as a Cognitive Trait

Article excerpt

Published online: 8 August 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract According to signal detection theory, old-new recognition decisions can be affected by response bias, a general proclivity to respond either "old" or "new." In recognition experiments, response bias is usually analyzed at a group level, but substantial individual differences in bias can underlie group means. These differences suggest that, independent of any experimental manipulation, some people require more memory evidence than do others before they are willing to call an item "old." In four experiments, we investigated the possibility that recognition response bias is a partial function of a trait-like predisposition. Bias was highly correlated across two recognition study-test cycles separated by 10 min (Experiment 1). A nearly identical correlation was observed when the tasks were separated by one week (Experiment 2). Bias correlations remained significant even when the stimuli differed sharply between the first and second study-test cycles (Experiment 3). No relationship was detected between bias and response strategies in two general knowledge tests (Experiments 2 and 4), but bias did weakly predict frequency of false recall in the Deese/Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm (Experiment 4). This evidence of trait-like stability suggests an entirely different aspect of response bias than that studied by examining its modulation by task variables, one for which complete theories of recognition memory may need to account.

Keywords Memory . Recognitionmemory . Response bias . Individual differences . Trait

Suppose that two participants studied an identical list of commonplace items and each took an identical yes-no recognition test containing equal numbers of items that were and were not on the study list. Suppose further that one participant achieved a hit rate of .90 and a false alarmrate of .40,while the other achieved a hit rate of .60 and a false alarm rate of .10. Although these two participants were equally accurate (75 % correct), their performances were strikingly different. This difference would be characterized as one of response bias: The first participant tended to favor "old" responses and was liberally biased, while the second favored "new" responses and was conservatively biased.

Recent years have seen an accelerating interest in response bias as a measure revealing important strategic influences on recognition memory. It is well established that participants adjust bias according to instructional motivation (e.g., Egan, 1958), payoffschedules that encourage "old" or "new" responses (e.g., Healy & Kubovy, 1978; Van Zandt, 2000), and the proportion of old test items (e.g., Van Zandt, 2000). Further work has revealed stimulus-specific properties that affect bias, such as the emotional content of the test items (e.g., Dougal & Rotello, 2007) and their subjective memorability (e.g., Brown, Lewis, & Monk, 1977). Another class of studies has investigated the extent to which participants can adjust criterion during the course of a test when conditions such as the memory strength of probes or target-distractor similarity are changed midstream (e.g., Benjamin & Bawa, 2004; G. E. Cox & Shiffrin, 2012; Dobbins & Kroll, 2005; Singer, 2009; for a review, see Hockley, 2011).

The present experiments were designed to examine recognition response bias from a different perspective. The objective was to ask whether bias is strictly a function of the prevailing experimental conditions or inheres to a degree in individual recognizers as a cognitive trait. Often, average response bias on recognition memory tests is neutral, unless manipulations are employed to push bias in a liberal or conservative direction. However, substantial individual differences in bias often underlie group means. Figure 1 illustrates an example of this phenomenon from an experiment reported by Kantner and Lindsay (2010), which involved a standard item recognition task. …

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