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J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2001 Nov;27(6):1359-66.

What causes the isolation effect?

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 27402, USA. huntrr@uncg.edu

Abstract

Events that are incongruent with their prevailing context are usually very well remembered. This fact often is described as the distinctiveness effect in memory, an effect that has served as explanation not only of memory phenomena but also of various other phenomena, including social judgment. The core laboratory paradigm for studying distinctiveness in memory research has long been the isolation paradigm. This paradigm, sometimes attributed to H. von Restorff, yields better memory for an item categorically isolated from surrounding items than for the surrounding items and a proper control item. The authors offer an interpretation of the isolation effect based on the analysis of the processing of similarities and differences among the items. Two experiments provide evidence for this interpretation. The results are discussed in the context of current theories of distinctiveness effects in memory. An appeal is made for a different conceptualization of distinctiveness effects, one that treats distinctiveness as a discriminative process in memory that requires processing of both similarities and differences among items.

PMID:
11713872
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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