Context effects on item and source memory: Evidence for contextual search in recognition memory
Although all memories are formed in a spatial and temporal context, they differ in the extent to which they continue to remain associated and influenced by the environmental context in which they were formed. The present experiments examined this question in terms of the recognition process, by investigating which component of the recognition memory process is affected by a change of context: familiarity (item recognition) or source retrieval (item-context recognition). Four experiments made use of a novel application of the source monitoring paradigm to test environmental context change on recognition of faces. The results were analyzed both empirically and by the use of a recently developed model for analyzing source monitoring data (Batchelder & Riefer, 1990). In Experiment 1, I tested context effects on recognition and source memory when the contexts were either similar or distinctive and the recognition and source judgment was made in one step. A failure to find large context effects in this experiment dictated abandoning this method in favor of a paradigm in which recognition and source judgments were made sequentially. In Experiment 2, which used the sequential paradigm, significant effects of context change were demonstrated for both similar and distinctive context conditions. Yet in both Experiments 1 and 2, the influence of context change on source accuracy depended on the method of analysis. The empirical measures showed that context influenced source memory, the model analysis did not. Experiment 3 introduced an interference paradigm, in order to test, as the model predicted, the functional independence of the cognitive processes of source discriminability and item recognition. Finally, Experiment 4 made use of the process dissociation paradigm (Jacoby, 1991) to establish two conditions: one in which successful recognition depended on retrieval of the context and one in which recognition could be made on the basis of familiarity alone. The major conclusion is that changing the context impairs subjects' recognition when successful discrimination of face depends upon the retrieval of the context.