Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Attributions of Fluency in Fame Judgments by Younger and Older Adults

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Attributions of Fluency in Fame Judgments by Younger and Older Adults

Article excerpt

Attributions of fluency in fame judgments by younger and older adults

Abstract Judgments about stimulus characteristics are affected by enhanced proce ssing fluency that results from an earlier presentation of the stimulus. By moni toring for an episodic source of processing fluency, younger adults can more eas ily avoid this influence than can older adults. In Experiment 1, older adults di scounted the effects of fluency when task demands encouraged the use of analytic judgments based on general knowledge, rather than an appeal to episodic source monitoring. Younger subjects were not reliably affected by these same task deman ds and their judgments continued to be affected by processing fluency. In Experi ment 2, introduction of more stringent demands led younger adults also to discou nt the effects of fluency. We conclude that the influence of processing fluency on younger and older adults varies, depending on whether memory for source or ge neral knowledge is put forward in place of fluency as a basis for judgments.

The fluency with which a stimulus is perceived and identified can be strongly en hanced by a single prior presentation of that stimulus (Jacoby & Dallas, 1981). Moreover, the fluency generated by the previous exposure of an item can influenc e judgments that an observer makes regarding its properties. For example, it has been argued that recognition memory is based in part on an attribution regardin g feelings of familiarity or fluency experienced when encoding a stimulus on a r ecognition test (Jacoby, Kelley, & Dywan, 1989). In this view, fluency is attrib uted to prior experience with the stimulus, prompting the conclusion that it has been encountered before. An important difficulty with using fluency as a basis for judging an item, a process that has been called the fluency heuristic (Jacob y & Brooks, 1984), is that many factors contribute to fluent processing, so an o bserver may be unable to make an accurate ascription regarding the source of flu ency.

In particular, perceptual fluency caused by a recent experience with a stimulus may not be ascribed to that occurrence. Instead, it might mistakenly be attribut ed to some characteristic that the stimulus does not actually possess, such as f ame in the case of a name (Jacoby, Woloshyn, & Kelley, 1989), or to presentation conditions that do not actually prevail, such as longer viewing time or reduced background noise (Jacoby, Allan, Collins, & Larwill, 1988; Witherspoon & Allan, 1985). Conversely, fluency produced by stimulus presentation conditions may be erroneously attributed to the prior presentation of the stimulus, leading to fal se alarms on a recognition test (Jacoby & Whitehouse, 1989; Johnston, Hawley, & Elliott, 1991).

The problem of determining the appropriate source of processing fluency is analo gous to the problem of source amnesia, in which information is remembered but it s episodic source cannot be recalled or the information is attributed to an inap propriate source (Schacter, Harbluk, & McLachlan, 1984). Difficulty with memory for source appears to be especially pronounced among older adults (Cohen & Faulk ner, 1989; Hashtroudi, Johnson, & Chrosniak, 1989). Similarly, the elderly appea r to be less able than younger adults to monitor the source of processing fluenc y when making stimulus judgments. Dywan and Jacoby (1990) showed that among olde r adults, classification of a nonfamous name as famous was more likely if it had been read earlier as part of a list of nonfamous names. Because subjects were i nformed before reading the original list that it contained only nonfamous names, successful monitoring of the source of fluency during the fame judgment task wo uld have presented incorrect classification of the previously read names. In fac t, younger subjects showed just this effect and were more likely to judge new, r ather than old, nonfamous names as famous. Older subjects, however, produced the opposite result, suggesting that they were less successful in establishing the source of fluency as prior occurrence on a list of nonfamous names. …

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