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On a problematic procedure to manipulate response biases in recognition experiments: the case of “implied” base rates

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The experimental manipulation of response biases in recognition-memory tests is an important means for testing recognition models and for estimating their parameters. The textbook manipulations for binary-response formats either vary the payoff scheme or the base rate of targets in the recognition test, with the latter being the more frequently applied procedure. However, some published studies reverted to implying different base rates by instruction rather than actually changing them. Aside from unnecessarily deceiving participants, this procedure may lead to cognitive conflicts that prompt response strategies unknown to the experimenter. To test our objection, implied base rates were compared to actual base rates in a recognition experiment followed by a post-experimental interview to assess participants’ response strategies. The behavioural data show that recognition-memory performance was estimated to be lower in the implied base-rate condition. The interview data demonstrate that participants used various second-order response strategies that jeopardise the interpretability of the recognition data. We thus advice researchers against substituting actual base rates with implied base rates.
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Keywords: Recognition memory; base rates; response bias; signal-detection theory; threshold models

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Social Sciences, University of Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany

Publication date: July 3, 2017

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