Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

False Recognition of Objects in Visual Scenes: Findings from a Combined Direct and Indirect Memory Test

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

False Recognition of Objects in Visual Scenes: Findings from a Combined Direct and Indirect Memory Test

Article excerpt

Published online: 14 September 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract We report an extension of the procedure devised by Weinstein and Shanks (Memory & Cognition 36:1415-1428, 2008) to study false recognition and priming of pictures. Participants viewed scenes with multiple embedded objects (seen items), then studied the names of these objects and the names of other objects (read items). Finally, participants completed a combined direct (recognition) and indirect (identification) memory test that included seen items, read items, and new items. In the direct test, participants recognized pictures of seen and read items more often than new pictures. In the indirect test, participants' speed at identifying those same pictures was improved for pictures that they had actually studied, and also for falsely recognized pictures whose names they had read. These data provide new evidence that a false-memory induction procedure can elicit memory-like representations that are difficult to distinguish from "true" memories of studied pictures.

Keywords False memory . Implicit memory . Object recognition . Priming . Source monitoring

Plenty of evidence exists that people can be induced to recognize pictures that they have never seen before (e.g., Fazendeiro, Winkielman, Luo, & Lorah, 2005; Hintzman, 1988; Israel & Schacter, 1997; Koutstaal, Verfaellie, & Schacter, 2001; Weinstein & Shanks, 2008, 2010). A question that intrigues many researchers, though, is to what extent this false recognition can be distinguished from true recognition (Schacter & Slotnick, 2004; Stark, Okado, & Loftus, 2010). The question is somewhat complicated by the fact that participants in such studies make recognition errors for multiple reasons. People might, for instance, falsely believe that they saw pictures of unseen items that are perceptually or conceptually related to items that they did see (e.g., Henkel & Franklin, 1998; Koutstaal et al., 2001). Alternatively, they might falsely recognize pictures after being exposed to the names of the pictures (e.g., Weinstein & Shanks, 2008, 2010). In the present study we asked are certain types of false recognition easier than others to discriminate from true recognition?

Attempts have been made to answer this question by examining participants' introspections regarding the perceptual qualities of true and false memories, either with verbal reports (e.g., Heaps & Nash, 2001; Lampinen, Odegard, & Bullington, 2003; Norman & Schacter, 1997; Schooler, Gerhard, & Loftus, 1986) or rating scales (e.g., Johnson, Suengas, Foley, & Raye, 1988; Mather, Henkel, & Johnson, 1997). Although the results have been mixed, the phenomenological differences between true and false memories appear to be quite subtle. One arguably more sensitive method by which researchers have examined the similarities and differences between true and false recognition is with indirect memory tests.

In a typical perceptual indirect test, participants might be timed as they try to identify stimuli that are revealed incrementally (e.g., Feustel, Shiffrin, & Salasoo, 1983; Stark & McClelland, 2000). These studies consistently show that people can identify stimuli more quickly if they have seen them before (commonly referred to as a priming effect; Jacoby & Dallas, 1981). The types of indirect tests that we are interested in are thus designed to be highly sensitive to the presence of perceptual memory traces; indeed, a change from verbal stimuli in the study phase to pictorial stimuli in the test phase typically eliminates perceptual priming (Hirshman, Snodgrass, Mindes, & Feenan, 1990; Scarborough, Gerard, & Cortese, 1979; Weldon, Roediger, Beitel, & Johnston, 1995). However, some studies have shown that just like genuine memories, false "memories" also display perceptual priming effects. For example, using a word-stem completion task to test memory indirectly, McDermott (1997) found perceptual priming of words that participants had genuinely studied in the experiment, but also of unstudied words that were strongly associated with studied words. …

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