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J Exp Psychol Gen. 1981 Sep;110(3):306-40.

On the relationship between autobiographical memory and perceptual learning.


Although the majority of research on human memory has concentrated on a person's ability to recall or recognize items as having been presented in a particular situation, the effects of memory are also revealed in a person's performance of a perceptual task. Prior experience with material can make that material more easily identified or comprehended in perceptually difficult situations. Unlike with standard retention tests, effects of prior experience on a perceptual task do not logically require that a person be aware that he or she is remembering. Indeed, amnesic patients purportedly show effects of practice in their subsequent performance of a perceptual or motor task even though they profess that they do not remember having engaged in that prior experience. The experiments that are reported were designed to explore the relationship between the more aware autobiographical form of memory that is measured by a recognition memory test and the less aware form of memory that is expressed in perceptual learning. Comparisons of effects on perceptual learning and recognition memory reveal two classes of variables. Variables such as the level of processing of words during study influenced recognition memory, although they had no effect on subsequent perceptual recognition. A study presentation of a word had as large an effect on its later perceptual recognition when recognition memory performance was very poor as it did when recognition memory performance was near perfect. In contrast, variables such as the number and the spacing of repetitions produced parallel effects on perceptual recognition and recognition memory. Following Mandler and others, it is suggested that there are two bases for recognition memory. If an item is readily perceived so that it seems to "jump out" from the page, a person is likely to judge that he or she has previously seen the item in the experimental situation. Variables that influence ease of perceptual recognition, then, can also have an effect on recognition memory, so parallel effects are found. The second basis for recognition memory involves elaboration of a word's study context and depends on such factors as level of processing during study--factors that are not important for perceptual recognition of isolated words. Comparisons of perceptual recognition and recognition memory are shown to be useful for determining how a variable has its effect. Effects of study on perceptual recognition appear to be totally due to memory for physical or graphemic information. Results reported are also relevant to theories of perceptual learning. A single presentation of an item is shown to have large and long-lasting effects on its later perceptual recognition. At least partially, effects of study on perceptual recognition depend on the same variables as do effects on more standard memory tests.

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