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J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2008 Nov;34(6):1412-29. doi: 10.1037/a0013016.

The effects of environmental context on recognition memory and claims of remembering.

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Department of Psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON, Canada.


Recognition memory for words was tested in same or different contexts using the remember/know response procedure. Context was manipulated by presenting words in different screen colors and locations and by presenting words against real-world photographs. Overall hit and false-alarm rates were higher for tests presented in an old context compared to a new context. This concordant effect was seen in both remember responses and estimates of familiarity. Similar results were found for rearranged pairings of old study contexts and targets, for study contexts that were unique or were repeated with different words, and for new picture contexts that were physically similar to old contexts. Similar results were also found when subjects focused attention on the study words, but a different pattern of results was obtained when subjects explicitly associated the study words with their picture context. The results show that subjective feelings of recollection play a role in the effects of environmental context but are likely based more on a sense of familiarity that is evoked by the context than on explicit associations between targets and their study context.

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