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Knowledge affords distinctive processing in memory

The effect of knowledge on memory generally is processing. However, both conceptual and empirical reasons exist to suspect that the organizational account is incomplete. Recently a revised version of that account has been proposed under the rubric of distinctiveness theory (Rawson & Van Overschelde, 2008). The goal of the experiments reported here was to extend the distinctiveness theory to the effect of knowledge on event-based as well as item-based memory. High and low knowledge individuals were shown two lists of items, each containing domain relevant items and control items. Various orienting tasks were performed across the experiments, which in conjunction with type of material and level of knowledge defined distinctive processing. The tests required recognition of items from the second of the two lists in the presence of lures drawn from the first list as well as novel items. For domain relevant material, hits and false alarms were a direct function of knowledge, the rates of which were predicted successfully by the distinctiveness theory. Most current theories attribute the effect of knowledge on memory to organizational processing. The results of these experiments illustrate the importance of item-specific processing to supplement organizational processing in order to adequately explain skilled memory.

from the Journal of Memory and Language