Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

On the Contribution of Perceptual Fluency and Priming to Recognition Memory

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

On the Contribution of Perceptual Fluency and Priming to Recognition Memory

Article excerpt

Repetition priming has been shown to be independent of recognition memory. Thus, the severely amnesic patient E.P. has demonstrated intact stem completion priming and perceptual identification priming, despite at-chance performance on recognition memory tasks. It has also been shown that perceptual fluency can influence feelings of familiarity, in the sense that items perceived more quickly tend to be identified as familiar. If studied items are identified more fluently, due to perceptual priming, and fluency leads to familiarity, why do severely amnesic patients perform no better than chance on recognition memory tasks? One possibility is that severely amnesic patients do not exhibit normal fluency. Another possibility is that fluency is not a sufficiently strong cue for familiarity. In two experiments, 2 severely amnesic patients, 3 moderately amnesic patients, and 8 controls saw words slowly clearing from a mask. The participants identified each word as quickly as possible and then made a recognition (old/new) judgment. All the participants exhibited fluency, in that old responses were associated with shorter identification times than new responses were. In addition, for the severely amnesic patients, priming was intact, and recognition memory performance was at chance. We next calculated how much priming and fluency should elevate the probability of accurate recognition. The tendency to identify studied words rapidly (.6) and the tendency to label these rapidly identified words old (.6) would result in 36% of the studied words being labeled old. Other studied words were identified slowly (.4) but were still labeled old (.4), resulting in an additional 16% of studied words labeled old. Thus, the presence of fluency increases the probability of accurate recognition judgments to only 52% (chance = 50%). This finding explains why amnesic patients can exhibit both priming and fluency yet still perform at chance on recognition tests.

Declarative memory supports the capacity for conscious recollection of facts and events (Eichenbaum & Cohen, 2001; Squire, 1992). One of the most widely studied examples of declarative memory is recognition, the ability to judge items as having been previously encountered. Declarative memory can be contrasted with a collection of nondeclarative memory abilities, including skill learning, simple forms of conditioning, and the phenomenon of priming (Knowlton & Packard, 2002; Schacter & Tulving, 1994; Squire, 2004). Priming refers to an improved ability to produce or identify an item on the basis of a recent encounter with the same or a related item (Schacter & Buckner, 1998; Tulving & Schacter, 1990).

There has been extended exploration of the possibility that priming and recognition memory might be related in some way-for example, that priming might lead to a feeling of familiarity and, thereby, might influence recognition judgments. For example, it has been proposed that previously encountered stimuli are processed more fluently and that the fluency with which items are processed is an important basis for judgments of familiarity (Mandler, 1980). Similarly, it has been suggested that a previously studied item is likely to "jump out from the page," in the sense that it is more readily perceived than other items, with the result that the item seems familiar (Jacoby & Dallas, 1981). The idea is that the familiarity of an item is based, in part, on an unconscious process whereby the fluency of processing is attributed to a previous encounter with the item.

Direct evidence for such an effect comes from studies in which the fluency of processing has been varied. Individuals who were asked to identify words partially occluded by a mask were more likely to judge that a word had been encountered recently when identification was easy than when identification was difficult (Johnston, Hawley, & Elliott, 1991; Whittlesea, 1993; Whittlesea, Jacoby, & Girard, 1990). …

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