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The cognitive tools that support mentally constructing event and scene representations

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Constructing mental representations is critical for many cognitive tasks, yet it is unclear if forming different representations relies on distinct cognitive processes. We tested how episodic memory contributes to constructing scene and event-based mental scenarios as well as the effects of two types of imagery ability (object and spatial imagery) on this contribution. Forty participants were given a series of scenario cues that were classified as scenes (e.g., a beach) or events (e.g., a family meal) by independent raters. To these cues, the participants described the details of the associated mental representation. They also rated the representation for vividness, sense of presence, and if forming the representation stimulated the retrieval of an autobiographical memory. The resulting descriptions were then scored for number of contained episodic and non-episodic details. We found participants generated more details – particularly episodic – for event than scene representations. Interestingly, episodic detail generation was predicted by subjective ratings for the scene and not event representations. Other rating differences were that scenes were experienced with a greater sense of presence and events were more likely to trigger autobiographical memory retrieval. Finally, we found dissociation in how object and spatial imagery ability related to event representations. For these representations, generating episodic and non-episodic details related to object and spatial imagery, respectively. These findings indicate how the nature of a representation directs contributions from episodic memory and are affected by imagery ability.
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Keywords: Mental representations; episodic memory; imagery ability; individual differences

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

Publication date: July 3, 2018

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