Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

An Unforgettable Apple: Memory and Attention for Forbidden Objects

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

An Unforgettable Apple: Memory and Attention for Forbidden Objects

Article excerpt

Published online: 24 May 2013

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Are we humans drawn to the forbidden? From jumbo-sized soft drinks to illicit substances, the influence of prohibited ownership on subsequent demand has made this question a pressing one. We know that objects that we our- selves own have a heightened psychological saliency, relative to comparable objects that are owned by others, but do these kinds of effects extend from self-owned to "forbidden" ob- jects? To address this question, we developed a modified version of the Turk shopping paradigm in which "purchased" items were assigned to various recipients. Participants sorted everyday objects labeled as "self-owned", "other-owned," and either "forbidden to oneself" (Experiment 1)or"forbidden to everyone" (Experiment 2). Subsequent surprise recognition memory tests revealed that forbidden objects with high (Experiment 1) but not with low (Experiment 2)self- relevance were recognized as well as were self-owned objects, and better than other-owned objects. In a third and final experiment, we used event-related potentials (ERPs) to deter- mine whether self-owned and self-forbidden objects, which showed a common memory advantage, are in fact treated the same at a neurocognitive--affective level. We found that both object types were associated with enhanced cognitive analy- sis, relative to other-owned objects, as measured by the P300 ERP component. However, we also found that self-forbidden objects uniquely triggered an enhanced response preceding the P300, in an ERP component (the N2) that is sensitive to more rapid, affect-related processing. Our findings thus sug- gest that, whereas self-forbidden objects share a common cognitive signature with self-owned objects, they are unique in being identified more quickly at a neurocognitive level.

Keywords Attention . Memory . Ownership . Forbidden . ERP . Self-relevance

Going back to Eve and the apple, the idea that we have a particular affinity for "forbidden fruit" is a common and recurring theme throughout history, art, and literature. The allure of things that we cannot have seems to capture our imaginations and attention. Yet, is this really the case? Like Eve, are we really drawn to things we are forbidden to have?

Here we framed the question empirically from the perspec- tive of object ownership. In particular, previous research has demonstrated attentional and memorial advantages for objects owned by the self relative to objects owned by others. When dyads were shown pictures of objects ostensibly "owned" by one member of the dyad or the other, subsequent recognition was greater for self-owned than for other-owned objects (Cunningham, Turk, Macdonald, & Macrae, 2008). This memory boost for self-owned objects was later replicated using more explicit measures of recall (Cunningham, van den Bos, & Turk, 2011; van den Bos, Cunningham, Conway, & Turk, 2010) and has been extended to subjective preferences and assessments of worth. For example, Huang, Wang, and Shi (2009) found that possessions assigned to self- ownership are implicitly preferred to possessions assigned to other-ownership in an Implicit Association Test (IAT). Areas related to attentional and reward processing show higher activation to self-owned objects (Turk, van Bussel, Brebner, et al., 2011a; Turk, van Bussel, Waiter, & Macrae, 2011b). Furthermore, sellers of objects value self-owned items (e.g., chocolate, mugs) significantly more than potential buyers do, a finding known as the endowment effect (Kahneman, Knetsch, & Thaler, 1990;Knetsch,1989).

Importantly, ownership over objects in these studies was determined during the experiments themselves, thus elimi- nating the potential influences of familiarity and history interacting with some objects relative to others. This sug- gests that ascribing ownership in the moment may confer special processing independent of other relevant factors, a consequence often referred to as the "mere ownership" effect (Beggan, 1992; Gawronski, Bodenhausen, & Becker, 2007). …

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