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Tracking the emergence of memories: A category-learning paradigm to explore schema-driven recognition.

  • Author(s): De Brigard, Felipe
  • Brady, Timothy F
  • Ruzic, Luka
  • Schacter, Daniel L
  • et al.

Previous research has shown that prior knowledge structures or schemas affect recognition memory. However, since the acquisition of schemas occurs over prolonged periods of time, few paradigms allow the direct manipulation of schema acquisition to study their effect on memory performance. Recently, a number of parallelisms in recognition memory between studies involving schemas and studies involving category learning have been identified. The current paper capitalizes on these findings and offers a novel experimental paradigm that allows manipulation of category learning between individuals to study the effects of schema acquisition on recognition. First, participants learn to categorize computer-generated items whose category-inclusion criteria differ between participants. Next, participants study items that belong to either the learned category, the non-learned category, both, or neither. Finally, participants receive a recognition test that includes old and new items, either from the learned, the non-learned, or neither category. Using variations on this paradigm, four experiments were conducted. The results from the first three studies suggest that learning a category increases hit rates for old category-consistent items and false alarm rates for new category-consistent lures. Absent the category learning, no such effects are evident, even when participants are exposed to the same learning trials as those who learned the categories. The results from the fourth experiment suggest that, at least for false alarm rates, the effects of category learning are not solely attributable to frequency of occurrence of category-consistent items during learning. Implications for recognition memory as well as advantages of the proposed paradigm are discussed.

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