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The myth of the encoding–retrieval match

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Modern memory researchers rely heavily on the encoding–retrieval match, defined as the similarity between coded retrieval cues and previously encoded engrams, to explain variability in retention. The encoding–retrieval match is assumed to be causally and monotonically related to retention, although other factors (such as cue overload) presumably operate in some circumstances. I argue here that the link between the encoding–retrieval match and retention, although generally positive, is essentially correlational rather than causal—much like the link between deep/elaborative processing and retention. Empirically, increasing the functional match between a cue and a target trace can improve, have no effect, or even decrease retention performance depending on the circumstance. We cannot make unequivocal predictions about retention by appealing to the encoding–retrieval match; instead, we should be focusing our attention on the extent to which retrieval cues provide diagnostic information about target occurrence.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Purdue University, IN, USA

Publication date: September 1, 2002

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