For Recognition Memory Number of Cue Elements and their Fans Interact: Incomplete Cues can be as Effective as Complete Cues


We are often required to recall and verify facts and events on the basis of cues that may vary in their degree of detail (e.g., number of cue elements provided in the probe). Key theories of memory (e.g., Anderson et al., 2004; Ratcliff, 1978) suggest the cue concepts in the probe (e.g., candle, hallway) can act in parallel to activate potentially relevant knowledge in long term memory (e.g., that the candle in the hallway is red). As such, facts in memory that are associated with any of the cue concepts become partially activated; but facts activated by more than one of the cue elements become most accessible. Thus, it may seem that providing more details (cue elements) should facilitate a person’s ability to access and ‘triangulate’ on the most relevant fact(s) in memory. However, human memory processes are constrained by capacity and resource limitations. When a probe contains multiple cue concepts, attentional resources may be divided among them, thus reducing the resulting spread of activation from each individual cue. The ACT-R cognitive architecture (Anderson et al., 2004) quantifies this hypothesis by partitioning a fixed amount of activation among cue elements. Consequently, providing an additional cue element may come at a cost of reducing the individual influence of each cue element. The current research explores this hypothesized trade-off, in contexts where the number of cue elements fall within normal working memory capacity (i.e., probes with 2 versus 3 cue concepts).

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