Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Top-Down Constraint on Recognition Memory

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Top-Down Constraint on Recognition Memory

Article excerpt

Published online: 21 November 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract Can recognition memory be constrained "at the front end," such that people are more likely to retrieve information about studying a recognition-test probe from a specified target source than they are to retrieve such information about a probe from a nontarget source? We adapted a procedure developed by Jacoby, Shimizu, Daniels, and Rhodes (Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 12:852-857, 2005) to address this question. Experiment 1 yielded evidence of sourceconstrained retrieval, but that pattern was not significant in Experiments 2, 3, and 4 (nor in several unpublished pilot experiments). In Experiment 5, in which items from the two studied sources were perceptibly different, a pattern consistent with front-end constraint of recognition emerged, but this constraint was likely exercised via visual attention rather than memory. Experiment 6 replicated both the absence of a significant constrained-retrieval pattern when the sources did not differ perceptibly (as in Exps. 2, 3 and 4) and the presence of that pattern when they did differ perceptibly (as in Exp. 5). Our results suggest that people can easily constrain recognition when items from the to-be-recognized source differ perceptibly from items from other sources (presumably via visual attention), but that it is difficult to constrain retrieval solely on the basis of source memory.

Keywords Recognition . Memory . Top-down . Constraint

Using a clever three-stage "memory-for-foils" procedure, Jacoby and colleagues convincingly showed that the way people process recognition memory test probes is affected by how they had encoded the to-be-recognized items during the study phase (Jacoby, Shimizu, Daniels, & Rhodes, 2005; Jacoby, Shimizu, Velanova, & Rhodes, 2005; Shimizu & Jacoby, 2005). First, subjects studied a list of wordswith either a deep, semantic processing task (e.g., rating the pleasantness of each word) or, for other subjects, a shallow processing task (e.g., counting the number of vowels in each word). Second, the subjects were tested on a random mix of studied and nonstudied probes presented one at a time for standard yes/ no recognition judgments. Third, they took a second recognition memory test, in which nonstudied items from the first test were mixed with new foils, with instructions to recognize the words that had been presented as foils on the first test. The robust finding across several studies was that hit rates on this second test of memory for foils were substantially higher for subjects who had initially studied items with a deep processing task than for subjects who had initially studied the items with a shallow processing task (see also Alban & Kelley, 2012; Bridger, Herron, Elward, & Wilding, 2009; Danckert, MacLeod, & Fernandes, 2011; Marsh et al., 2009).

The memory-for-foils results are convincing evidence that how subjects interrogate or search memory for recognition test probes depends on how the to-be-recognized items were studied. People query recognition memory differently when the task is to recognize deeply processed items than when the task is to recognize shallowly processed items. As Alban and Kelley (2012) succinctly put it, on a recognition memory test "people query memory by mentally reinstating encoding operations" (p. 681). We call this "source-constrained search" of recognition memory.

Jacoby and his coauthors did not attribute their memoryfor-foils findings solely to source-constrained search of recognition memory during the first test. Rather, they proposed the provocative thesis that recognition memory can be constrained "at the front end" (Shimizu & Jacoby, 2005, p. 17), such that when a probe is presented at test "only sought after information comes to mind" (Jacoby, Shimizu, Daniels, & Rhodes, 2005, p. 852). That is, they interpreted their findings not only as evidence of source-constrained search, but also as evidence of source-constrained retrieval during the first test. …

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