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Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2005 Mar;5(1):14-20.

On the contribution of perceptual fluency and priming to recognition memory.

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University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California , USA.


Repetition priming has been shown to be independent of recognition memory. Thus, the severely amnesic patient E.P. has demonstrated intact stem completion priming and perceptual identification priming, despite at-chance performance on recognition memory tasks. It has also been shown that perceptual fluency can influence feelings of familiarity, in the sense that items perceived more quickly tend to be identified as familiar. If studied items are identified more fluently, due to perceptual priming, and fluency leads to familiarity, why do severely amnesic patients perform no better than chance on recognition memory tasks? One possibility is that severely amnesic patients do not exhibit normal fluency. Another possibility is that fluency is not a sufficiently strong cue for familiarity. In two experiments, 2 severely amnesic patients, 3 moderately amnesic patients, and 8 controls saw words slowly clearing from a mask. The participants identified each word as quickly as possible and then made a recognition (old/new) judgment. All the participants exhibited fluency, in that old responses were associated with shorter identification times than new responses were. In addition, for the severely amnesic patients, priming was intact, and recognition memory performance was at chance. We next calculated how much priming and fluency should elevate the probability of accurate recognition. The tendency to identify studied words rapidly (.6) and the tendency to label these rapidly identified words old (.6) would result in 36% of the studied words being labeled old. Other studied words were identified slowly (.4) but were still labeled old (.4), resulting in an additional 16% of studied words labeled old. Thus, the presence of fluency increases the probability of accurate recognition judgments to only 52% (chance = 50%). This finding explains why amnesic patients can exhibit both priming and fluency yet still perform at chance on recognition tests.

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