Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Strength Cues and Blocking at Test Promote Reliable Within-List Criterion Shifts in Recognition Memory

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Strength Cues and Blocking at Test Promote Reliable Within-List Criterion Shifts in Recognition Memory

Article excerpt

Published online: 13 February 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract In seven experiments, we explored the potential for strength-based, within-list criterion shifts in recognition memory. People studied a mix of target words, some presented four times (strong) and others studied once (weak). In Experiments 1, 2, 4A, and 4B, the test was organized into alternating blocks of 10, 20, or 40 trials. Each block contained lures intermixed with strong targets only or weak targets only. In strength-cued conditions, test probes appeared in a unique font color for strong and weak blocks. In the uncued conditions of Experiments 1 and 2, similar strength blocks were tested, but strength was not cued with font color. False alarms to lures were lower in blocks containing strong target words, as compared with lures in blocks containing weak targets, but only when strength was cued with font color. Providing test feedback in Experiment 2 did not alter these results. In Experiments 3A-3C, test items were presented in a random order (i.e., not blocked by strength). Of these three experiments, only one demonstrated a significant shift even though strength cues were provided. Overall, the criterion shift was larger and more reliable as block size increased, and the shift occurred only when strength was cued with font color. These results clarify the factors that affect participants' willingness to change their response criterion within a test list.

Keywords Recognition · Mirror effects · Memory strength · Criterion shifts

People constantly encounter information in their environment that cues memories for personal episodic experiences. However, because memories of prior experience cannot be perfectly veridical, people make assumptions and inferences about what their retrieval experiences represent (Johnson et al. 1993). The decision process leading to an interpretation of cued memories involves many possibilities, including whether memories are accurate or false, whether they can be tempo- rally dated, or whether they originated from one possible encoding context or another (Johnson et al. 1993). The re- memberer must set a criterion for how strong the evidence from memory must be for the retrieved information to be accepted as a valid prior experience, and this criterion would ideally be adapted to the specific experience in question. For example, imagine that someone asks you "Have you ever driven through Houston?" versus "Did you ever live in Houston?" You should require much stronger memories of Houston to assent to the second question than to the first. In the present experiments, we investigate criterion adjustments in a standard recognition memory task. In particular, we focus on whether people can use expected stimulus strength as a reliable cue for setting and adjusting a recognition memory criterion within a test. In the remainder of this section, we couch this criterion-setting process in the context of a frame- work for understanding recognition memory decisions-sig- nal detection theory (Green & Swets, 1966).

Although a signal detection analysis of how criterion shifts might be produced by stimulus strength differences has been presented many times (e.g., Hirshman, 1995;Stretch& Wixted, 1998), we briefly summarize it here. Figure 1 depicts a scenario in which people study some items repeatedly and other items once to create strong and weak distributions of target items, respectively. The distribution of stronger items sits farthest to the right on the strength-of-evidence (i.e., familiarity) scale. These items have, on average, more evi- dence of prior experience. The weak target distribution sits in the middle, being weaker on average, as compared with the repeated targets. Finally, the lure distribution sits farthest to the left, these items having not been encoded in the experi- mental context. Lures are included on the test to help provide an index of discriminability between old and new items and to lend credence to the possible "old" and "new" decisions on the test. …

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