False alarms in episodic recognition : an examination of base-rate, similarity-based and comprehensive theories

Angela M. Maguire (2005). False alarms in episodic recognition : an examination of base-rate, similarity-based and comprehensive theories PhD Thesis, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Angela M. Maguire
Thesis Title False alarms in episodic recognition : an examination of base-rate, similarity-based and comprehensive theories
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2005
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Michael Humphreys
Total pages 105
Collection year 2005
Language eng
Subjects L
380102 Learning, Memory, Cognition and Language
780108 Behavioural and cognitive sciences
Formatted abstract

Five experiments address the theoretical mechanisms governing false alarms in episodic recognition. Three major distinctions are drawn between extant theories of false recognition: those that address base-rate false alarms (background-familiarity and context-noise models); those that address similarity-based false alarms (lARs, recall-to-recognize, and category-based criterion shifts); and comprehensive theories (item-noise and spreading-activation models), which address both types of false recognition using the same set of theoretical assumptions. The Deese/Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm (J. Deese, 1959; H. L. Roediger & K. B. McDermott, 1995) presents a challenge to theories of recognition memory in that it typically requires an 'explanation for both types of false recognition within the same experimental procedure: base-rate false alarms to unrelated distractors and similarity-based false alarms to related distractors. 


Experiment 1 and 2 instantiated a variant of the DRM paradigm. In Experiment 1 (N = 203), a 2x2x2x2x2 mixed factorial design with one nested factor was employed; manipulating the type of conceptual category (taxonomic vs. associative), the category length (5-item vs. 1-item), the item tested within the category (first item in the 5-item categories and the only item in the litem categories vs.last item in the 5-item categories and the only item in the 1-item categories), the category separation type (blocked vs. distributed), and the type of recognition test (old-new vs. forced-choice). In both the old-new and two-alternative forced-choice procedures, the distractor items were either the most representative exemplar from the taxonomic categories, or the prototype from the associative categories. Additionally, participants in the forced-choice test received both within-category choices and between-category choices (nested factor) in which the two test alternatives were drawn from the same category or different categories, respectively. Experiment 2 (N = 168), employed distributed taxonomic categories exclusively, retained the item tested control, and introduced a test expectancy manipulation and forced-choice test conditions in which between-category choices were used exclusively. 


The comprehensive theories (item-noise and spreading-activation models) predict a loss in discriminability as category length increases and a within-category choice advantage in forced-choice recognition. For the associative categories in Experiment 1, increases in category length produced both losses in discriminability and shifts to a more liberal decision bias. For the taxonomic categories in Experiment 1, the bias shifts were not accompanied by losses in discriminability. The Experiment 2 results were consistent with those of Experiment 1: increases in category length failed to produce losses in discriminability for the taxonomic categories, but again produced shifts to a more liberal decision bias. Furthermore, across both Experiment 1 and 2, there was no evidence for a within-category choice advantage in forced-choice recognition. 


The control variables employed in Experiment 1 and 2 provided substantial support for the involvement of organizational processes in the DRM paradigm (e.g., categorization: encoding of same-category interitem associations and/or item-category associations). Experiment 3 and 4 were designed to pursue similarity-based theories of false recognition (recall-to-recognize; category-based criterion shifts) using simpler paradigms that afforded proper controls over the experimental variables of interest. Experiment 3 (N = 60) examined cued recall and cue recognition of related pairs. A high level of false recall and false recognition was observed for extralist cues related to both members of a study pair. The results support the involvement of cue-substitution driven recall-to-recognize in the DRM paradigm. Experiment 4 (N = 20) examined context-based categorization of unrelated items, demonstrating a context-like effect produced by item-by-item criterion shifts- evidence against static criterion accounts of within-list episodic recognition, and a foundation for a category-based criterion-shift account of false recognition in the DRM paradigm. 


Experiment 5 (N = 60) examined false alarms to unrelated items under a source-monitoring lest manipulation. The materials and lists controlled for background familiarity (word frequency), context noise (context variability), and item noise (fixed set of old and new items). The observed materials-by-instructions interaction supports source-constrained retrieval and a context-noise model of recognition memory. These findings, in conjunction with failure to observe taxonomic category length effects and a within-category choice advantage in Experiment 1 and 2, provide convergent evidence against item-noise and spreading-activation accounts of false recognition. The utility of the DRM paradigm for investigating false recognition processes and the use of the term "false memory" to describe commission errors in list-learning paradigms are addressed in the General Discussion. 

Keyword Memory

Document type: Thesis
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Created: Fri, 24 Aug 2007, 18:51:42 EST