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Psychon Bull Rev. 2001 Dec;8(4):827-33.

Retrieval conditions and false recognition: testing the distinctiveness heuristic.

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Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


High levels of false recognition are observed after people study lists of semantic associates that all converge on a nonpresented lure word. In previous experiments, we have found that orienting participants to encode distinctive information about study list items by presenting them as pictures as opposed to words produces marked reductions in false recognition. We have suggested that these reductions reflect the operation of a distinctiveness heuristic: Participants demand access to detailed pictorial information in order to support a positive recognition decision. The present experiments provide additional evidence on this point and allow us to distinguish between the distinctiveness heuristic account and an alternative account based on the impoverished encoding of relational information that occurs when one is studying pictures. In Experiment 1, even when only half of the items in a study list were presented as pictures, a general suppression of false recognition was observed that could be attributable to impoverished encoding of relational information. Experiment 2 provided a critical test of the distinctiveness heuristic account: We manipulated test instructions and found that differences in false recognition rates between picture and word encoding were attenuated in a retrieval condition that did not encourage reliance on a distinctiveness heuristic.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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