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Associating object names with descriptions of shape that distinguish possible from impossible objects

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Five experiments examine the proposal that object names are closely linked to representations of global, 3D shape by comparing memory for simple line drawings of structurally possible and impossible novel objects. Objects were rendered impossible through local edge violations to global coherence (cf. Schacter, Cooper, & Delaney, 1990) and supplementary observations confirmed that the sets of possible and impossible objects were matched for their distinctiveness. Employing a test of explicit recognition memory, Experiment 1 confirmed that the possible and impossible objects were equally memorable. Experiments 2–4 demonstrated that adults learn names (single-syllable non-words presented as count nouns, e.g., “This is a dax”) for possible objects more easily than for impossible objects, and an item-based analysis showed that this effect was unrelated to either the memorability or the distinctiveness of the individual objects. Experiment 3 indicated that the effects of object possibility on name learning were long term (spanning at least 2 months), implying that the cognitive processes being revealed can support the learning of object names in everyday life. Experiment 5 demonstrated that hearing someone else name an object at presentation improves recognition memory for possible objects, but not for impossible objects. Taken together, the results indicate that object names are closely linked to the descriptions of global, 3D shape that can be derived for structurally possible objects but not for structurally impossible objects. In addition, the results challenge the view that object decision and explicit recognition necessarily draw on separate memory systems, with only the former being supported by these descriptions of global object shape. It seems that recognition also can be supported by these descriptions, provided the original encoding conditions encourage their derivation. Hearing an object named at encoding appears to be just such a condition. These observations are discussed in relation to the effects of naming in other visual tasks, and to the role of visual attention in object identification.


Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Psychology Department, Lancaster University, UK

Publication date: July 1, 2000


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