The Relational Luring Effect: Retrieval of Relational Information During Associative Recognition

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Abstract

Here we argue that semantic relations (e.g., works in: nurse–hospital) have abstract independent representations in long-term memory (LTM) and that the same representation is accessed by all exemplars of a specific relation. We present evidence from 2 associative recognition experiments that uncovered a novel relational luring effect (RLE) in recognition memory. Participants studied word pairs, and then discriminated between intact (old) pairs and recombined lures. In the first experiment participants responded more slowly to lures that were relationally similar (table–cloth) to studied pairs (floor–carpet), in contrast to relationally dissimilar lures (pipe–water). Experiment 2 extended the RLE by showing a continuous effect of relational lure strength on recognition times (RTs), false alarms, and hits. It used a continuous pair recognition task, where each recombined lure or target could be preceded by 0, 1, 2, 3 or 4 different exemplars of the same relation. RTs and false alarms increased linearly with the number of different previously seen relationally similar pairs. Moreover, more typical exemplars of a given relation lead to a stronger RLE. Finally, hits for intact pairs also rose with the number of previously studied different relational instances. These results suggest that semantic relations exist as independent representations in LTM and that during associative recognition these representations can be a spurious source of familiarity. We discuss the implications of the RLE for current models of semantic and episodic memory, unitization in associative recognition, analogical reasoning and retrieval, as well as constructive memory research.

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