Illusory Expectations Can Affect Retrieval-Monitoring Accuracy

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The present study investigated how expectations, even when illusory, can affect the accuracy of memory decisions. Participants studied words presented in large or small font for subsequent memory tests. Replicating prior work, judgments of learning indicated that participants expected to remember large words better than small words, even though memory for these words was equivalent on a standard test of recognition memory and subjective judgments. Critically, we also included tests that instructed participants to selectively search memory for either large or small words, thereby allowing different memorial expectations to contribute to performance. On these tests we found reduced false recognition when searching memory for large words relative to small words, such that the size illusion paradoxically affected accuracy measures (d′ scores) in the absence of actual memory differences. Additional evidence for the role of illusory expectations was that (a) the accuracy effect was obtained only when participants searched memory for the aspect of the stimuli corresponding to illusory expectations (size instead of color) and (b) the accuracy effect was eliminated on a forced-choice test that prevented the influence of memorial expectations. These findings demonstrate the critical role of memorial expectations in the retrieval-monitoring process.

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