Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Using the Memory Activation Capture (MAC) Procedure to Investigate the Temporal Dynamics of Hypothesis Generation

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Using the Memory Activation Capture (MAC) Procedure to Investigate the Temporal Dynamics of Hypothesis Generation

Article excerpt

Published online: 31 August 2013

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Research investigating top-down capture has demonstrated a coupling of working memory content with attention and eye movements. By capitalizing on this relationship, we have developed a novel methodology, called the memory activation capture (MAC) procedure, for measuring the dynamics of working memory content supporting complex cognitive tasks (e.g., decision making, problem solving). The MAC procedure employs briefly presented visual arrays containing task-relevant information at critical points in a task. By observing which items are preferentially fixated, we gain a measure of working memory content as the task evolves through time. The efficacy of the MAC procedure was demonstrated in a dynamic hypothesis generation task in which some of its advantages over existing methods for measuring changes in the contents of working memory over time are highlighted. In two experiments, the MAC procedure was able to detect the hypothesis that was retrieved and placed into working memory. Moreover, the results from Experiment 2 suggest a two-stage process following hypothesis retrieval, whereby the hypothesis undergoes a brief period of heightened activation before entering a lower activation state in which it is maintained for output. The results of both experiments are of additional general interest, as they represent the first demonstrations of top-down capture driven by participant-established WM content retrieved from long-term memory.

Keywords Attention . Workingmemory . Recall

Many complex cognitive tasks are defined by the ebb and flow of information through working memory (WM). Problem solv- ing, for instance, consists largely of bringing various solutions to mind and assessing their efficacy in light of the characteris- tics defining the current situation over time. The path toward finding a suitable solution may depend on the order in which task characteristics are considered or on the inappropriate so- lutions considered prior to an adequate solution being discov- ered. The process by which we develop explanations (i.e., generate hypotheses) for the events that we witness is also largely defined by the time course of information occupying WM. In such hypothesis generation tasks, information acquired from our surroundings inhabits WM, as this information is used to cue long-term memory (LTM) for relevant explanations that are then brought into WM. Additionally, multiattribute choice tasks entail the consideration of the various options and their attributes across time before arriving at a final decision.

The considerable interest in understanding the cognitive dynamics of information use over time is underscored by the proliferation of process-tracing methodologies within several domains. Think-aloud procedures, in which a participant pro- vides concurrent verbalization of cognitive states while performing a task, were among the first of these techniques to be developed (Ericcson & Simon, 1993; Ford, Schmitt, Schechtman, Hults, & Doherty, 1989; Montgomery & Svenson, 1976;Svenson,1979) and still enjoy widespread use today (Schulte-Mecklenbeck, Kühberger, & Ranyard, 2011). The myriad of methodologies under this umbrella have proved valuable for understanding novice and expert perfor- mance (de Groot, 1965) in a wide range of domains (Ericsson & Simon, 1980, 1993). Additionally, information boards, in which participants sequentially uncover task information, were developed around the same time to capture the time course of information acquisition (Payne, 1976), and it is from this tradition that Mouselab was inspired as a computerized version affording several methodological benefits (Bettmann, Johnson, & Payne, 1990; Payne, Bettman, & Johnson, 1993). Not long after the think-aloud and information board tech- niques were developed, it was observed that monitoring eye movements affords another valuable means of process tracing (Russo, 1978). …

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