Does Context Discriminate Recollection from Familiarity in Recognition Memory?

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Five experiments were conducted to examine subjects' ability to make contextual judgements about recognized items for which they report recollective experience or only familiarity within the context of the experiment. In the first four experiments, subjects were able to make judgements of the spatiotemporal context of items that were accompanied by recollective experience significantly better than for items they merely found familiar. In only one of the four studies did subjects display above-chance performance on spatiotemporal judgements for merely familiar items. A fifth experiment examined the frequency with which subjects report the presence of different kinds of contextual knowledge during a standard recognition experiment. All aspects of contextual knowledge were reported with higher frequencies for recollected items than for items only found familiar, although no single contextual feature was strongly associated with recollective experience. Thus, the five studies together provide converging evidence for the validity of the ''recollect-know'' distinction in recognition memory and supplement studies that have already demonstrated that the two kinds of response are dissociable. The implications of these data for group comparisons of memory-impaired patients, and the role of context in recognition memory are discussed.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: August 1, 1996

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