Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Importance of Material-Processing Interactions in Inducing False Memories

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Importance of Material-Processing Interactions in Inducing False Memories

Article excerpt

Deep encoding, relative to shallow encoding, has been shown to increase the probability of false memories in the Deese/Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm (Thapar & McDermott, 2001; Toglia, Neuschatz, & Goodwin, 1999). In two experiments, we showed important limitations on the generalizability of this phenomenon; these limitations are clearly predicted by existing theories regarding the mechanisms underlying such false memories (e.g., Roediger, Watson, McDermott, & Gallo, 2001). Specifically, asking subjects to attend to phonological relations among lists of phonologically associated words (e.g., weep, steep, etc.) increased the likelihood of false recall (Experiment 1) and false recognition (Experiment 2) of a related, nonpresented associate (e.g., sleep), relative to a condition in which subjects attended to meaningful relations among the words. These findings occurred along with a replication of prior findings (i.e., a semantic encoding task, relative to a phonological encoding task, enhanced the likelihood of false memory arising from a list of semantically associated words), and they place important constraints on theoretical explanations of false memory.

The recent introduction of new techniques for studying false memories has permitted researchers to systematically identify and investigate variables that influence the likelihood of false memories. One method involves presenting meaningfully associated words (e.g., bed, rest, awake) to elicit false memory for a related but nonpresented word (sleep). The ability of such lists to elicit false recall was first noted by Deese (1959) and was replicated and extended to false recognition by Roediger and McDermott (1995). The method of using converging semantic associates to induce false memories has sometimes been referred to as the DRM (Deese/Roediger-McDermott) paradigm. Phonological associates (e.g., sweep, steep, sleet) can also induce similar false memory effects (e.g., sleep). Specifically, false memories can be elicited by presenting lists of phonologically related words in both recognition (Anisfeld, 1969; Schacter, Verfaellie, & Anes, 1997; Watson, Balota, & Roediger, 2003) and recall (McDermott & Watson, 2001; Sommers & Lewis, 1999; Watson et al., 2003) tasks.

The influence of many independent and subject variables on the likelihood of false memories in the DRM paradigm has been examined. One finding is that the orienting task invoked at encoding exerts an influence on the probability of false recall and false recognition (Rhodes & Anastasi, 2000; Thapar & McDermott, 2001; Toglia et al., 1999). Specifically, deeper, semantic encoding leads to higher probabilities of false memory (and veridical memory) than does superficial encoding: false memories for the nonpresented associates show patterns that are similar to what is known as the level of processing effect (Craik & Lockhart, 1972).

The source of this empirical finding, however, is not well defined, in part because the use of only semantically associated lists limits interpretive power. Does semantic processing enhance the likelihood of false memories across the board? Or is semantic processing especially influential when the stimuli are semantic associates, so that false memories induced by the encoding of phonological associates might be more frequent following phonological processing? The present experiments were designed to address these questions.

Results from several earlier studies provide tentative empirical grounds for the prediction that false memories arising from phonologically associated lists may indeed be enhanced by phonological encoding in comparison with semantic encoding. The false recognition probabilities for phonological associates from two such studies did not differ as a function of encoding task (semantic or phonological) (Coltheart, 1977; Wright, Ciccone, & Brelsford, 1977). However, two other studies noted significantly greater probabilities of false recognition for phonological encoding (relative to semantic encoding), although the observed differences were small (Davies & Cubbage, 1976; Parkin, 1983). …

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