From Chair to “Chair”: A Representational Shift Account of Object Labeling Effects on Memory


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Abstract

What are the consequences of calling things by their names? Six experiments investigated how classifying familiar objects with basic-level names (chairs, tables, and lamps) affected recognition memory. Memory was found to be worse for items that were overtly classified with the category name—as reflected by lower hit rates—compared with items that were not overtly classified. This effect of labeling on subsequent recall is explained in terms of a representational shift account, with labeling causing a distortion in dimensions most reliably associated with the category label. Consistent with this account, effects of labeling were strongly mediated by typicality and ambiguity of the labeled items, with typical and unambiguous items most affected by labeling. Follow-up experiments showed that this effect cannot be explained solely by differences in initial encoding, further suggesting that labeling a familiar image distorts its encoded representation. This account suggests a possible mechanism for the verbal overshadowing effect (J. W. Schooler & T. Y. Engstler-Schooler, 1990).

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