Disregarding Familiarity During Recollection Attempts: Content-Specific Recapitulation as a Retrieval Orientation Strategy

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People can use a content-specific recapitulation strategy to trigger memories (i.e., mentally reinstating encoding conditions), but how people deploy this strategy is unclear. Is recapitulation naturally used to guide all recollection attempts, or is it only used selectively, after retrieving incomplete information that requires additional monitoring? According to a retrieval orientation model, people use recapitulation whenever they search memory for specific information, regardless of what information might come to mind. In contrast, according to a postretrieval monitoring model, people selectively engage recapitulation only after retrieving ambiguous information in order to evaluate this information and guide additional retrieval attempts. We tested between these models using a criterial recollection task, and by manipulating the strength of ambiguous information associated with to-be-rejected foils (i.e., familiarity or noncriterial information). Replicating prior work, foil rejections were greater when people attempted to recollect targets studied at a semantic level (deep test) compared to an orthographic level (shallow test), implicating more accurate retrieval monitoring. To investigate the role of a recapitulation strategy in this monitoring process, a final test assessed memory for the foils that were earlier processed on these recollection tests. Performance on this foil recognition test suggested that people had engaged in more elaborative content-specific recapitulation when initially tested for deep compared to shallow recollections, and critically, this elaboration effect did not interact with the experimental manipulation of foil strength. These results support the retrieval orientation model, whereby a recapitulation strategy was used to orient retrieval toward specific information during every recollection attempt.

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