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Cognition. 2015 Jul;140:111-21. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2015.04.007. Epub 2015 Apr 20.

Scale invariance of temporal order discrimination using complex, naturalistic events.

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Key Laboratory of Brain Functional Genomics, Ministry of Education, Shanghai Key Laboratory of Brain Functional Genomics, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, School of Psychology and Cognitive Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China; NYU-ECNU Institute of Brain and Cognitive Science, NYU-Shanghai University, Shanghai, China; Neuroimaging Laboratory, Fondazione Santa Lucia, Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico (IRCCS), Rome, Italy. Electronic address:
Neuroimaging Laboratory, Fondazione Santa Lucia, Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico (IRCCS), Rome, Italy.


Recent demonstrations of scale invariance in cognitive domains prompted us to investigate whether a scale-free pattern might exist in retrieving the temporal order of events from episodic memory. We present four experiments using an encoding-retrieval paradigm with naturalistic stimuli (movies or video clips). Our studies show that temporal order judgement retrieval times were negatively correlated with the temporal separation between two events in the movie. This relation held, irrespective of whether temporal distances were on the order of tens of minutes (Exp 1-2) or just a few seconds (Exp 3-4). Using the SIMPLE model, we factored in the retention delays between encoding and retrieval (delays of 24 h, 15 min, 1.5-2.5 s, and 0.5 s for Exp 1-4, respectively) and computed a temporal similarity score for each trial. We found a positive relation between similarity and retrieval times; that is, the more temporally similar two events, the slower the retrieval of their temporal order. Using Bayesian analysis, we confirmed the equivalence of the RT/similarity relation across all experiments, which included a vast range of temporal distances and retention delays. These results provide evidence for scale invariance during the retrieval of temporal order of episodic memories.


Bayesian inference; Retrieval latency; SIMPLE model; Self-similarity; Similarity value; Temporal context

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