Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

When Disfluency Is-And Is Not-A Desirable Difficulty: The Influence of Typeface Clarity on Metacognitive Judgments and Memory

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

When Disfluency Is-And Is Not-A Desirable Difficulty: The Influence of Typeface Clarity on Metacognitive Judgments and Memory

Article excerpt

Abstract There are many instances in which perceptual disfluency leads to improved memory performance, a phenomenon often referred to as the perceptual-interference effect (e.g., Diemand-Yauman, Oppenheimer, & Vaughn (Cognition 118:111-115, 2010); Nairne (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 14:248-255, 1988)). In some situations, however, perceptual disfluency does not affect memory (Rhodes & Castel (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 137:615-625, 2008)), or even impairs memory (Glass, (Psychology and Aging 22:233-238, 2007)). Because of the uncertain effects of perceptual disfluency, it is important to establish when disfluency is a "desirable difficulty" (Bjork, 1994) and when it is not, and the degree to which people's judgments of learning (JOLs) reflect the consequences of processing disfluent information. In five experiments, our participants saw multiple lists of blurred and clear words and gave JOLs after each word. The JOLs were consistently higher for the perceptually fluent items in withinsubjects designs, which accurately predicted the pattern of recall performance when the presentation time was short (Exps. 1a and 2a). When the final test was recognition or when the presentation time was long, however, we found no difference in recall for clear and blurred words, although JOLs continued to be higher for clear words (Exps. 2b and 3). When fluency was manipulated between subjects, neither JOLs nor recall varied between formats (Exp. 1b). This study suggests a boundary condition for the desirable difficulty of perceptual disfluency and indicates that a visual distortion, such as blurring a word, may not always induce the deeper processing necessary to create a perceptual-interference effect.

Keywords Metamemory . Memory . Judgments of learning . Desirable difficulties . Fluency

The sense of fluency, or the subjective ease with which a person processes information, impacts a variety of judgments about that information. For example, items that are perceived as more perceptually fluent (e.g., larger in font size or greater in visual clarity) are more likely to be judged as typical members of a category (Oppenheimer & Frank, 2008) or as having been previously studied (Whittlesea, Jacoby, & Girard, 1990). The effect of perceptual fluency extends to memory predictions: More easily processed words are usually predicted to be more recallable or recognizable in the future (Begg, Duft, Lalonde, Melnick, & Sanvito, 1989; Hirshman &Mulligan, 1991; Nairne, 1988; Rhodes & Castel, 2008).

While people consistently judge less fluent items as being more difficult to remember or recognize on a future test, actual recall is often surprisingly unaffected by, or is even improved by, perceptual disfluency (Diemand-Yauman, Oppenheimer, & Vaughan, 2010; Hirshman & Mulligan, 1991; Rhodes & Castel, 2008; Slamecka & Graf, 1978). Hirshman and Mulligan (1991) and Mulligan (1996) examined the effects of perceptual interference onmemory using pattern masks to occlude words almost immediately after their initial presentation. These researchers found that words in the perceptual-interference condition were recognized and recalled better than words that were not visually obscured. Such improved performance on explicit memory tests as a result of interfering with perceptual processing has been termed the perceptual-interference effect (Mulligan, 1996).

The discrepancy between memory predictions, known as judgments of learning (JOLs), and performance on measures of learning is especially relevant for students and educators, because faulty beliefs can lead to improper study strategies and inefficient learning. The mnemonic effects of disfluency are counterintuitive to many people in learning situations; generally, amore fluent experience during study implies greater comprehension and leads to greater confidence in one's memory for the material (Benjamin, Bjork, & Schwartz, 1998; Maki, Foley, Kajer, Thompson, & Willert, 1990; Rawson & Dunlosky, 2002). …

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