Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Are First Impressions Lasting Impressions? an Exploration of the Generality of the Primacy Effect in Memory for Repetitions

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Are First Impressions Lasting Impressions? an Exploration of the Generality of the Primacy Effect in Memory for Repetitions

Article excerpt

In five experiments, we investigated the primacy effect in memory for repetitions (DiGirolamo & Hintzman, 1997), the finding that when participants are shown a study list that contains two very similar versions of the same stimulus, memory is biased in the direction of the version that was presented first. In the experiments reported, the generality of the effect was examined by manipulating the orientation and features of the repeated stimuli. The results confirmed that the effect is reliable when stimulus changes affect the accidental properties of the stimulus (properties of the stimulus that give information about distance or angle but do little to aid in identification). However, the effect was not found when changes were made to other aspects of the stimulus. The results suggest that the primacy effect in memory for repetitions is not robust across all stimulus changes and converge with previous findings that have demonstrated that such properties of stimuli as orientation and size are represented differently in memory than are other stimulus characteristics.

The beneficial effects of repetition on memory have been well documented (e.g., Ebbinghaus, 1885/1964; for reviews, see Crowder, 1976, and Greene, 1992). Although memory usually improves with repetition of a stimulus, researchers have documented several instances in which increased repetition does not facilitate memory performance. For example, an early study by Nickerson and Adams (1979) showed that participants were unable to properly configure the features of a penny, despite countless repeated exposures to this object.

Recent examples of repetition's failing to facilitate memory performance can be found in studies by Hintzman, Curran, and Oppy (1992) and Hintzman and Curran (1995). In these studies, participants viewed long lists of stimuli, with some stimuli presented as many as 25 times. Later, the participants were given a memory test that included the previously seen items, as well as highly similar lures. The participants were asked to make a frequency judgment for each test item. The results showed that although the participants could report with great accuracy how many times a given stimulus had appeared on a list, repetition did not increase their ability to discriminate a stimulus presented on the list from a highly similar lure.

Hintzman et al. (1992) termed their finding registration without learning because, although it seemed that the repetition was registered by the participants (as indicated by the increased frequency judgments for repeated items), there was no evidence that the participants learned the details of the stimulus to a degree sufficient to discriminate between the repeated stimulus and a highly similar alternative. For example, the participants were able to report accurately how many times the word frog had appeared on a list; however, they failed to discriminate between the words frog and frogs in a recognition memory test, even when the word frog had appeared many times.

Additional evidence in support of this conclusion was reported in a study by DiGirolamo and Hintzman (1997). In their study, participants studied multiple presentations of simple line drawings of common objects. The study list was constructed so that half of the objects were presented in different left-right orientations. For the objects that were presented in different left-right orientations, either the first presentation or the last presentation was different from all of the others. Immediately following the study phase, the participants were given a forced choice memory test in which both versions of an object from the study list were presented, and the participants' task was to judge whether both versions of the object or only one of the versions had been presented previously. A second experiment, in which stimulus size, rather than orientation, was manipulated was also conducted.

The results of both experiments revealed that errors on the recognition test were biased toward the first presentation of the object. …

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