Ignoring Memory Hints: The Stubborn Influence of Environmental Cues on Recognition Memory

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Recognition judgments can benefit from the use of environmental cues that signal the general likelihood of encountering familiar versus unfamiliar stimuli. While incorporating such cues is often adaptive, there are circumstances (e.g., eyewitness testimony) in which observers should fully ignore environmental cues in order to preserve memory report fidelity. The current studies used the explicit memory cueing paradigm to examine whether participants could intentionally ignore reliable environmental cues when instructed. Three experiments demonstrated that participants could volitionally dampen the directional influence of environmental cues on their recognition judgments (i.e., whether influenced to respond “old” or “new”) but did not fully eliminate their influence. Although monetary incentives diminished the mean influence of cues on responses rates, finer grained individual differences analysis, as well as confidence and RTs analyses, demonstrated that participants were still systematically influenced. These results demonstrate that environmental cues presented at test remain a potent influence on recognition decisions and subjective confidence even when ostensibly ignored.

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