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Adv Child Dev Behav. 2001;28:41-100.

Fuzzy-trace theory: dual processes in memory, reasoning, and cognitive neuroscience.

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Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, and School Psychology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA.


Fuzzy-trace theory has evolved in response to counterintuitive data on how memory development influences the development of reasoning. The two traditional perspectives on memory-reasoning relations--the necessity and constructivist hypotheses--stipulate that the accuracy of children's memory for problem information and the accuracy of their reasoning are closely intertwined, albeit for different reasons. However, contrary to necessity, correlational and experimental dissociations have been found between children's memory for problem information that is determinative in solving certain problems and their solutions of those problems. In these same tasks, age changes in memory for problem information appear to be dissociated from age changes in reasoning. Contrary to constructivism, correlational and experimental dissociations also have been found between children's performance on memory tests for actual experience and memory tests for the meaning of experience. As in memory-reasoning studies, age changes in one type of memory performance do not seem to be closely connected to age changes in the other type of performance. Subsequent experiments have led to dual-process accounts in both the memory and reasoning spheres. The account of memory development features four other principles: parallel verbatim-gist storage, dissociated verbatim-gist retrieval, memorial bases of conscious recollection, and identity/similarity processes. The account of the development of reasoning features three principles: gist extraction, fuzzy-to-verbatim continua, and fuzzy-processing preferences. The fuzzy-processing preference is a particularly important notion because it implies that gist-based intuitive reasoning often suffices to deliver "logical" solutions and that such reasoning confers multiple cognitive advantages that enhance accuracy. The explanation of memory-reasoning dissociations in cognitive development then falls out of fuzzy-trace theory's dual-process models of memory and reasoning. More explicitly, in childhood reasoning tasks, it is assumed that both verbatim and gist traces of problem information are stored. Responding accurately to memory tests for presented problem information depends primarily on verbatim memory abilities (preserving traces of that information and accessing them when the appropriate memory probes are administered). However, accurate solutions to reasoning problems depend primarily on gist-memory abilities (extracting the correct gist from problem information, focusing on that gist during reasoning, and accessing reasoning operations that process that gist). Because verbatim and gist memories exhibit considerable dissociation, both during storage and when they are subsequently accessed on memory tests, dissociations of verbatim-based memory performance from gist-based reasoning are predictable. Conversely, associations are predicted in situations in which memory and reasoning are based on the same verbatim traces (Brainerd & Reyna, 1988) and in situations in which memory and reasoning are based on the same gist traces (Reyna & Kiernan, 1994). Fuzzy-trace theory's memory and reasoning principles have been applied in other research domains. Four such domains are developmental cognitive neuroscience studies of false memory, studies of false memory in brain-damaged patients, studies of reasoning errors in judgment and decision making, and studies of retrieval mechanisms in recall. In the first domain, the principles of parallel verbatim-gist storage, dissociated verbatim-gist retrieval, and identity/similarity processes have been used to explain both spontaneous and implanted false reports in children and in the elderly. These explanations have produced some surprising predictions that have been verified: false reports do not merely decline with age during childhood but increase under theoretically specified conditions; reports of events that were not experienced can nevertheless be highly persistent over time; and false reports can be suppressed by retrieving verbatim traces of corresponding true events. In the second domain, the same principles have been invoked to explain why some forms of brain damage lead to elevated levels of false memory and other forms lead to reduced levels of false memory. In the third domain, the principles of gist extraction, fuzzy-to-verbatim continua, and fuzzy-processing preferences have been exploited to formulate a general theory of loci of processing failures in judgment and decision making, cluminating in a developmental account of degrees of rationality that distinguishes more and less advanced reasoning. This theory has in turn been used to formulate local models, such as the inclusion illusions model, that explain the characteristic reasoning errors that are observed on specific judgment and decision-making tasks. Finally, in the fourth domain, a dual-process conception of recall has been derived from the principles of parallel verbatim-gist storage and dissociated verbatim-gist retrieval. In this conception, which has been used to explain cognitive triage effects in recall and robust false recall, targets are recalled either by directly accessing their verbatim traces and reading the retrieved information out of consciousness or by reconstructively processing their gist traces.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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