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Retrieval failure contributes to gist-based false recognition

People often falsely recognize items that are similar to previously encountered items. This robust memory error is referred to as gist-based false recognition. A widely held view is that this error occurs because the details fade rapidly from our memory. Contrary to this view, an initial experiment revealed that, following the same encoding conditions that produce high rates of gist-based false recognition, participants overwhelmingly chose the correct target rather than its related foil when given the option to do so. A second experiment showed that this result is due to increased access to stored details provided by reinstatement of the originally encoded photograph, rather than to increased attention to the details. Collectively, these results suggest that details needed for accurate recognition are, to a large extent, still stored in memory and that a critical factor determining whether false recognition will occur is whether these details can be accessed during retrieval.

from the Journal of Memory and Language

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Quality trumps quantity at reducing memory errors: Implications for retrieval monitoring and mirror effects

Memories have qualitative properties (e.g., the different kinds of features or details that can be retrieved) and quantitative properties (e.g., the frequency and/or strength of retrieval). Here we investigated the relative contribution of these two properties to the retrieval monitoring process. Participants studied a list of words, and memory for these words was enhanced either by studying an associated picture or by word repetition. Subsequent memory tests required participants to selectively monitor retrieval for these different kinds of stimuli. Compared to words that were studied only once, test words associated with either pictures or repetitions were more likely to be correctly recognized, but critically, false recognition was reduced only when monitoring memory for picture recollections. Subjective judgments and speeded tests indicated that study repetition increased the number of test words that elicited recollection and familiarity (a quantitative difference), but studying pictures maximized the recollection of unique or distinctive details (a qualitative difference). These results indicate that memory quality is more critical than quantity for retrieval monitoring accuracy.

from the Journal of Memory and Language

Biased Recognition of Positive Faces in Aging and Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment

We investigated age differences in biased recognition of happy, neutral, or angry faces in 4 experiments. Experiment 1 revealed increased true and false recognition for happy faces in older adults, which persisted even when changing each face’s emotional expression from study to test in Experiment 2. In Experiment 3, we examined the influence of reduced memory capacity on the positivity-induced recognition bias, which showed the absence of emotion-induced memory enhancement but a preserved recognition bias for positive faces in patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment compared with older adults with normal memory performance. In Experiment 4, we used semantic differentials to measure the connotations of happy and angry faces. Younger and older participants regarded happy faces as more familiar than angry faces, but the older group showed a larger recognition bias for happy faces. This finding indicates that older adults use a gist-based memory strategy based on a semantic association between positive emotion and familiarity. Moreover, older adults’ judgments of valence were more positive for both angry and happy faces, supporting the hypothesis of socioemotional selectivity. We propose that the positivity-induced recognition bias might be based on fluency, which in turn is based on both positivity-oriented emotional goals and on preexisting semantic associations.

from Psychology and Aging