Varieties of Memory and Consciousness: Essays in Honour of Endel Tulving

By Endel Tulving III; Henry L. Roediger III et al. | Go to book overview

19 Memory Attributions

Larry L. Jacoby McMaster University

Colleen M. Kelley Williams College

Jane Dywan McMaster University

What word comes to mind as a completion for the following fragment: L--ST? A social psychologist with a Freudian bent might treat the fragment as a projective test, revealing enduring dispositions, particularly if the completion fits with Freudian concerns as in the case of LUST. A perception psychologist may focus on the constraints provided by the particular letters given, or the frequency of the completion word, as Broadbent ( Broadbent & Broadbent, 1975) has done. A memory theorist may see the fragment as an indirect memory test and assume that the completion word was recently encountered, even if the circumstances of that encounter are not remembered. In this case, a completion such as LIST might be readily attributed to recent discussions of memory experiments. The attribution of a completion to the effects of memory, perception, or personality is probably sometimes justified. We suggest that not only do psychologists attribute observed effects to a source, but experimental subjects in an experiment do the same thing. A subject's claim that he or she remembers is an attribution of a response to a particular cause; that is, to the past. The subject differs from the experimenter, however, in that the subject has access to fewer control conditions than does the experimenter. Consequently, the subject's attributions will more often be in error. The particular word completion might be primarily due to the influence of memory but may be misattributed to some other source. We focus on misattributions of memory later. First, we argue for the necessity of an attributional analysis of remembering, and then provide a general framework for that approach.

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