Response Speeding Mediates the Contributions of Cue Familiarity and Target Retrievability to Metamnemonic Judgments

Article excerpt

Metamnemonic judgments are influenced by the retrievability of the target memory in question, but also by the familiarity of the cue used to elicit such judgments. However, there have been few suggestions as to what factors mediate the influence of these different sources of information on metamnemonic judgments. In this experiment, I examined the interactions between prediction time pressure and variables that promote either cue familiarity or target retrievability. The data reveal that target retrievability plays a larger role than does cue familiarity in fostering predictions of future recall made under unpressured conditions, but that cue familiarity influences predictions that are speeded. This pattern is interpreted by analogy with recognition memory: Mnemonic evidence based on familiarity is more impervious to the demands of time pressure than are the products of deliberative retrieval. Several explanations for this effect are suggested.

The effective use of one's memory depends on many factors above and beyond its fidelity. We constantly make decisions about what aspects of a situation or an object to commit to memory, how to do so, and how successful we think we were in doing so. Metamemory research focuses on such monitoring and control processes that interact with memory (e.g., Nelson & Narens, 1990) and holds promise not only to help import memory research into applied and educational settings, but also to provide novel approaches to the understanding of memory phenomena. This article revisits a debate on the nature of the information that is incorporated into metamnemonic judgments and, in particular, on whether cue familiarity or target retrievability influences metamemory judgments. This debate faded from mainstream metamemory research, in large part, because the evidence marshaled in support of each of these views was sufficiently convincing to persuade most researchers in the field that both factors played a role. This evidence will be briefly reviewed below, but it is to an extension of this issue that I wish to turn: What mediates the influence of these factors across tasks, individuals, or stimuli?

Several pieces of evidence suggest that judgments about the future retrievability of a target word can be influenced by the familiarity of the cue term. Schwartz and Metcalfe (1992) showed that subjects predicted superior recognition for unrecalled target words (feelings of knowing) paired with cues that had been previously exposed, even though actual rates of recognition were not affected by that prior episode. Cue familiarity also plays a role in tasks in which subjects predict future recall. In a semantic retrieval paradigm, Reder (1987) showed that speeded predictions of answer retrievability to general information questions increased when the words from the question had been primed in an earlier task. Begg, Duft, LaLonde, Melnick, and Sanvito (1989) showed that cue concreteness increased the magnitude of predicted future recall (judgments of learning) as well.

Other evidence has suggested that target retrievability serves as a basis for metacognitive judgments. Blake (1973), for example, showed that predictions of recognition for unrecalled trigrams increased with the amount of partial recall, as did actual recognition probability. Koriat (1993) showed that predictions of recognition for unrecalled answers to general information questions depended on the amount of information that came to mind in response to those questions. Thus, he suggested that general accessibility of information, and not target retrievability specifically, fosters certain metacognitive judgments. Schacter and Worling (1985) showed that people can retrieve affective characteristics of words for which they cannot retrieve the appropriate word form and that metamnemonic judgments about the impending recognition of those words reflected access to such characteristics.

As has been noted by Koriat and Levy-Sadot (2001), these two views have often been held in opposition to one another, tacitly implying that one or the other more accurately reflected the "true" nature of metacognitive judgments. …