Information and Processes Underlying Semantic and Episodic Memory Across Tasks, Items, and Individuals

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The development of memory theory has been constrained by a focus on isolated tasks rather than the processes and information that are common to situations in which memory is engaged. We present results from a study in which 453 participants took part in five different memory tasks: single-item recognition, associative recognition, cued recall, free recall, and lexical decision. Using hierarchical Bayesian techniques, we jointly analyzed the correlations between tasks within individuals—reflecting the degree to which tasks rely on shared cognitive processes—and within items—reflecting the degree to which tasks rely on the same information conveyed by the item. Among other things, we find that (a) the processes involved in lexical access and episodic memory are largely separate and rely on different kinds of information, (b) access to lexical memory is driven primarily by perceptual aspects of a word, (c) all episodic memory tasks rely to an extent on a set of shared processes which make use of semantic features to encode both single words and associations between words, and (d) recall involves additional processes likely related to contextual cuing and response production. These results provide a large-scale picture of memory across different tasks which can serve to drive the development of comprehensive theories of memory.

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