Overdistribution in Source Memory

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Semantic false memories are confounded with a second type of error, overdistribution, in which items are attributed to contradictory episodic states. Overdistribution errors have proved to be more common than false memories when the 2 are disentangled. We investigated whether overdistribution is prevalent in another classic false memory paradigm: source monitoring. It is. Conventional false memory responses (source misattributions) were predominantly overdistribution errors, but unlike semantic false memory, overdistribution also accounted for more than half of true memory responses (correct source attributions). Experimental control of overdistribution was achieved via a series of manipulations that affected either recollection of contextual details or item memory (concreteness, frequency, list order, number of presentation contexts, and individual differences in verbatim memory). A theoretical model was used to analyze the data (conjoint process dissociation) that predicts that (a) overdistribution is directly proportional to item memory but inversely proportional to recollection and (b) item memory is not a necessary precondition for recollection of contextual details. The results were consistent with both predictions.

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