Implicit Memory Research in 1996: Introductory Remarks

By Challis, Bradford H. | Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, March 1996 | Go to article overview

Implicit Memory Research in 1996: Introductory Remarks


Challis, Bradford H., Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology


This special issue of the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology is titled "Implicit Memory Research in 1996." Implicit memory now occupies centre stage in the study of memory, and as such, the editor of the journal saw the need for a special issue. As guest editor of the special issue on implicit memory, I solicited research articles from eleven prominent laboratories. As you will see in reading the issue, the eleven papers report new and innovative research on a range of empirical and theoretical issues dealing with implicit memory.

Because the study of implicit memory is still quite new, and the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology attracts readers with different research backgrounds, I am providing below a general introduction to implicit memory and to the eleven articles contained in the special issue.

The way we think about memory has evolved rather dramatically in recent years. Check your dictionary for the term memory and you will likely find the traditional definition: Memory is the faculty of retaining and recalling past experiences, an act or instance of remembrance or recollection (The American Heritage Dictionary, 1985). Ask a cognitive psychologist to define memory and you will likely find that the traditional definition is no longer complete because of a recent distinction between explicit memory and implicit memory (Graf & Schacter, 1985).

We now appreciate that memory for a past event or experience can be revealed in at least two fundamentally different ways. On the one hand, memory can be expressed through the conscious recollection or recalling of past events, which is now called explicit memory. On the other hand, memory for a past event or experience can be revealed through behaviour that does not entail conscious recollection of the event, which is referred to as implicit memory(f.1).

Implicit memory encompasses many kinds of phenomena. In a review of the history and current status of implicit memory, Schacter (1987) describes many instances of implicit remembering that occur in both everyday and experimental situations. These include simple conditioning, savings during relearning, priming, and social behaviour, to mention only a few. Researchers are beginning to investigate many of these and other expressions of implicit memory, although the contemporary study of implicit memory focuses extensively on priming.

Priming is the phenomenon of implicit memory whereby a previous encounter with a stimulus influences the speed or accuracy of performance on a task, a task that does not require conscious recollection of the prior encounter with the stimulus. The contemporary study of priming has focused on the phenomenon whereby a prior presentation of a stimulus, usually a word or picture, facilitates subsequent processing of that stimulus or a related stimulus. A prevalent illustration would be the identification of a perceptually - degraded or fragmented form of the stimulus. For instance, one popular priming task requires subjects to identify a stimulus flashed very briefly on a computer screen; this is referred to as perceptual identification or masked word identification. Another popular task requires subjects to complete a fragmented stimulus, as in word fragment completion ( - 1 - ph - t) or word stem completion (ele ____). In these priming tasks, a target item presented at study (elephant) is cued at test by its perceptually - cued form, so the beneficial effect of study on test performance has been labeled perceptual priming.

Priming on perceptually - cued tests plays a major role in the study of implicit memory. Initial interest in memory began with reports that dense amnesic patients with severely impaired explicit memory show normal priming on word fragment completion tasks. Many further studies have shown that a variety of subject and experimental variables have a dissociative effect on implicit memory assessed by priming, and on explicit memory assessed by recall or recognition. …

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