The role of feature accessibility in memory conjunction errors
Memory conjunction error is a common phenomenon that occurs when we incorrectly combine parts of previously experienced memories to create an entirely new memory. For example, such an error has occurred when a person remembers seeing the word toothache after viewing the words toothpick and earache instead. Two theories have been proposed in the literature to account for the mechanisms underlying such errors. In one account, memory conjunction errors occur because features stored in episodic memory are incorrectly conjoined. In another account, memory conjunction errors occur simply because conjunction lures seems familiar. In an attempt to distinguish the two theories, the current research focuses on the differences between retrieval mechanisms. Experiment 1 introduces and examines an important factor, the accessibility of episodic features. Experiment 2 further confirms that feature accessibility plays an important role in the occurrence of feature errors. Experiment 3 investigates the retrieval dynamics of the two types of episodic features. The current data pose major problems for the binding theory's claim about a feature binding process occurring at retrieval. Taken as a whole, the current data also show that unified events can be represented differently in episodic memory depending on the nature of the associated features.