Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Cross-Situational Consistency in Recognition Memory Response Bias

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Cross-Situational Consistency in Recognition Memory Response Bias

Article excerpt

Published online: 19 March 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Individuals taking an old-new recognition memory test differ widely in their bias to respond "old," ranging from strongly conservative to strongly liberal, even without any manipulation intended to affect bias. Kantner and Lindsay (2012) found stability of bias across study-test cycles, suggesting that bias is a cognitive trait. That consistency, however, could have arisen because participants perceived the two tests as being part of the same experiment in the same context. In the present study, we tested for stability across two recognition study-test procedures embedded in markedly different experiments, held weeks apart, that participants did not know were connected. Bias showed substantial cross-situational stability. Moreover, bias weakly predicted identifications on an eyewitness memory task and accuracy on a go-no-go task. Although we found little in the way of relationships between bias and five personality measures, these findings suggest that response bias is a stable and broadly influential characteristic of recognizers.

Keywords Recognition memory · Response bias · Individual differences · Trait

Deciding whether a word, face, object, or scene has been encountered previously poses a challenge to the memory system because old items and new items alike can elicit moderate feelings of prior occurrence. Most theories of recognition assume that people reach recognition decisions from ambiguous memory evidence by establishing a criterion beyond which evidence is sufficient to call an item "old," and before which an item will be called "new." The criterion can be neutral, or individuals can be biased to respond "old" (a liberal bias) or "new" (a conservative bias). For example, if participants are told before the test that most of the test probes will be old, they tend to adopt a liberal bias, endorsing items as old on the basis of relatively little memory evidence (e.g., Van Zandt 2000).

Although most research has focused on how bias responds to experimental manipulations, Kantner and Lindsay (2012) noted that it tends to vary widely across participants in a recognition experiment, even when equal numbers of old and new items are presented and no biasing manipulations are in place.We speculated that individuals possess a trait-like predisposition to err on the side of "old" or "new" responses (see also Aminoffet al. 2012; Beth, Budson,Waring, and Ally 2009; Gillespie and Eysenck 1980). Consistent with this notion, we found wide variability in bias across individuals, but substantial stability within individuals across time (10 min or 1 week) and materials (words and paintings). We also observed a relationship between recognition response bias and false recall in the Deese/Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm (see also Zhu, Chen, Loftus, Lin, and Dong 2013). These results suggest that in addition to speaking of manipulations that produce a liberal or conservative bias, we may also speak of liberal and conservative recognizers.

If bias is a manifestation of a trait, then trait-like stability should also be in evidence across distinct, unrelated situations. Kantner and Lindsay's (2012) findings do not speak to this issue, because all of the correlated measures were taken within the same experimental context: The experimenter, testing environment, day (with one exception), and time of day were all constants. The overarching goal of the present experiments was to create two ostensibly independent testing situations and to measure response bias in the same individuals in both situations. Central to the endeavor was having participants complete both experiments without any awareness of a connection between them.

The experiments were posted under separate names. Initially, participation in the two studies was mutually exclusive: Signing up for one disqualified an individual from signing up for the other. After sufficient Ns had accrued in both experiments (approximately 3 weeks later), they were changed to become mutual prerequisites: Participants could not sign up for one unless they had already completed the other (although this was not apparent to participants). …

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