People Use the Memory for Past-Test Heuristic as an Explicit Cue for Judgments of Learning

By Serra, Michael J.; Ariel, Robert | Memory & Cognition, November 2014 | Go to article overview

People Use the Memory for Past-Test Heuristic as an Explicit Cue for Judgments of Learning


Serra, Michael J., Ariel, Robert, Memory & Cognition


Published online: 5 June 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract When people estimate their memory for to-beleamed material over multiple study-test trials, they tend to base their judgments of learning (JOLs) on their test performance for those materials on the previous trial. Their use of this information-known as the memory for past-test (MPT) heuristic-is believed to be responsible for improvements in the relative accuracy (resolution) of people's JOLs across learning trials. Although participants seem to use past-test information as a major basis for their JOLs, little is known about how learners translate this information into a judgment of learning. Toward this end, in two experiments, we examined whether participants factored past-test performance into their JOLs in either an explicit, theory-based way or an implicit way. To do so, we had one group of participants (learners) study paired associates, make JOLs, and take a test on two study-test trials. Other participants (observers) viewed learners' protocols and made JOLs for the learners. Presumably, observers could only use theory-based information to make JOLs for the learners, which allowed us to estimate the contribution of explicit and implicit information to learners' JOLs. Our analyses suggest that all participants factored simple past-test performance into their JOLs in an explicit, theorybased way but that this information made limited contributions to improvements in relative accuracy across trials. In contrast, learners also used other privileged, implicit information about their learning to inform their judgments (that observers had no access to) that allowed them to achieve further improvements in relative accuracy across trials.

Keywords Metacognition · Judgments of learning · Relative accuracy · Memory for past test · Explicit cue use Implicit cue use

How well people's judgments of learning (JOLs) discriminate learned from unlearned items-relative accuracy-is a central topic in metamemory research (Dunlosky & Metcalfe, 2009; Dunlosky, Serra, & Baker, 2007). On an initial study-test trial, people's JOLs typically exhibit modest relative accuracy (typically operationalized as a gamma correlation between participants' JOLs and recall outcomes across items). This measure, however, improves on subsequent study-test trials, largely because people use their performance on the previous studytest trial as a major basis for their JOLs for the same items on the current trial (Ariel & Dunlosky, 2011; England & Serra, 2012; Finn & Metcalfe, 2007, 2008; King, Zechmeister, & Shaughnessy, 1980; Tauber & Rhodes, 2012; Ve sonder & Voss, 1985). Researchers refer to people's use of this information for JOLs as the memory for past test (MPT) heuristic. Although it seems clear that people use this information to inform their JOLs, it is unclear how people incorporate this information into their judgments. The present experiments examined whether people use MPT to make JOLs in an implicit way or an explicit, theory-based way.

Implicit versus explicit cue usage

Theories about how people make metamemory judgments have centered on the assertion that metacognitive judgments are inferential in nature (Schwartz, Benjamin, & Bjork, 1997). Inferences about a given cognitive process are informed by cues (information about the target cognition) that people consult to judge the status of that process (Koriat, 1997). One distinction related to the types of cues people use to make JOLs focuses on how people use cues. More specifically, people can use cues to make their judgments in an explicit, theory-based way (i.e., on the basis of their beliefs or naïve theories about how that cue is related to memory; Briñol, Petty, & Tormala, 2006; Mueller, Tauber, & Dunlosky, 2013; Serra & Dunlosky, 2010), or they can use cues in a more implicit, experience-based way (Koriat & Ackerman, 2010; Koriat, Nussinson, Bless, & Shaked, 2008). …

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