Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition


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  • Kill or die: Moral judgment alters linguistic coding of causality. 20170202
    What is the relationship between the language people use to describe an event and their moral judgments? We test the hypothesis that moral judgment and causative verbs rely on the same underlying mental model of people’s actions. Experiment 1a finds that participants choose different verbs to describe the major variants of a moral dilemma, the trolley problem, mirroring differences in their wrongness judgments: they described direct harm with a single causative verb (Adam killed the man), and indirect harm with an intransitive verb in a periphrastic construction (Adam caused the man to die). Experiments 1b and 2 separate physical causality from moral valuation by varying whether the victim is a person or animal and whether the harmful action rescues people or inanimate objects. The results show that people’s moral judgments lead them to portray a causal event as either more or less direct and intended, which in turn shapes their verb choices. Experiment 3 finds the same basic asymmetry in verb usage in a production task in which participants freely described what happened. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Event segmentation improves event memory up to one month later. 20170406
    When people observe everyday activity, they spontaneously parse it into discrete meaningful events. Individuals who segment activity in a more normative fashion show better subsequent memory for the events. If segmenting events effectively leads to better memory, does asking people to attend to segmentation improve subsequent memory? To answer this question, participants viewed movies of naturalistic activity with instructions to remember the activity for a later test, and in some conditions additionally pressed a button to segment the movies into meaningful events or performed a control condition that required button-pressing but not attending to segmentation. In 5 experiments, memory for the movies was assessed at intervals ranging from immediately following viewing to 1 month later. Performing the event segmentation task led to superior memory at delays ranging from 10 min to 1 month. Further, individual differences in segmentation ability predicted individual differences in memory performance for up to a month following encoding. This study provides the first evidence that manipulating event segmentation affects memory over long delays and that individual differences in event segmentation are related to differences in memory over long delays. These effects suggest that attending to how an activity breaks down into meaningful events contributes to memory formation. Instructing people to more effectively segment events may serve as a potential intervention to alleviate everyday memory complaints in aging and clinical populations. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Effects of learned episodic event structure on prospective duration judgments. 20170112
    The field of psychology of time has typically distinguished between prospective timing and retrospective duration estimation: in prospective timing, participants attend to and encode time, whereas in retrospective estimation, estimates are based on the memory of what happened. Prior research on prospective timing has primarily focused on attentional mechanisms to explain timing behavior, but it remains unclear the extent to which memory processes may also play a role. The present studies investigate this issue, and specifically, the role of newly learned encoded event structure. Two structural properties of dynamic event sequences were examined, which are known to modulate retrospective duration estimates: the perceived number of segments and the similarity between them. We found that when duration and episodic event content are both attended to and encoded, more segments and less similarity between them led to longer attributed durations, despite clock duration remaining constant. In contrast, when only duration is attended to, only the number of segments influenced estimated durations. These findings indicate that incidentally or intentionally encoded episodic event structure modulates prospective duration judgments. Based on these and previous findings, implications for the role of memory mechanisms on prospective paradigms are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
  • A task-dependent causal role for low-level visual processes in spoken word comprehension. 20170123
    It is well established that the comprehension of spoken words referring to object concepts relies on high-level visual areas in the ventral stream that build increasingly abstract representations. It is much less clear whether basic low-level visual representations are also involved. Here we asked in what task situations low-level visual representations contribute functionally to concrete word comprehension using an interference paradigm. We interfered with basic visual processing while participants performed a concreteness task (Experiment 1), a lexical-decision task (Experiment 2), and a word class judgment task (Experiment 3). We found that visual noise interfered more with concrete versus abstract word processing, but only when the task required visual information to be accessed. This suggests that basic visual processes can be causally involved in language comprehension, but that their recruitment is not automatic and rather depends on the type of information that is required in a given task situation. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
  • How our own speech rate influences our perception of others. 20170116
    In conversation, our own speech and that of others follow each other in rapid succession. Effects of the surrounding context on speech perception are well documented but, despite the ubiquity of the sound of our own voice, it is unknown whether our own speech also influences our perception of other talkers. This study investigated context effects induced by our own speech through 6 experiments, specifically targeting rate normalization (i.e., perceiving phonetic segments relative to surrounding speech rate). Experiment 1 revealed that hearing prerecorded fast or slow context sentences altered the perception of ambiguous vowels, replicating earlier work. Experiment 2 demonstrated that talking at a fast or slow rate prior to target presentation also altered target perception, though the effect of preceding speech rate was reduced. Experiment 3 showed that silent talking (i.e., inner speech) at fast or slow rates did not modulate the perception of others, suggesting that the effect of self-produced speech rate in Experiment 2 arose through monitoring of the external speech signal. Experiment 4 demonstrated that, when participants were played back their own (fast/slow) speech, no reduction of the effect of preceding speech rate was observed, suggesting that the additional task of speech production may be responsible for the reduced effect in Experiment 2. Finally, Experiments 5 and 6 replicate Experiments 2 and 3 with new participant samples. Taken together, these results suggest that variation in speech production may induce variation in speech perception, thus carrying implications for our understanding of spoken communication in dialogue settings. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Modulation of language switching by cue timing: Implications for models of bilingual language control. 20170216
    The current study examines the interplay between global and local processes in bilingual language control. We investigated language-switching performance of unbalanced Arabic-Hebrew bilinguals in cued picture naming, using 5 different cuing parameters. The language cue could precede the picture, follow it, or appear simultaneously with it. Naming latencies were reduced with precuing, demonstrating bilinguals’ ability to globally modulate language activation, and more strongly reduced with postcuing, demonstrating bilinguals’ ability to locally activate lemmas in both languages. Precuing reduced switching costs in reaction time (RT), and postcuing significantly reduced switching costs in accuracy, but not in RT. Switching costs were mostly symmetric for both languages, although participants were unbalanced bilinguals. These results support the notion that both global language selection and resolution of competition between activated lemmas are involved in bilingual language control. They further demonstrate that persisting language schema activation and local lemma selection and inhibition are equal across both languages of unbalanced bilinguals. Finally, results demonstrate that experimental manipulations of cuing parameters can have dissociable influences on overall RTs, and switch costs in latency and accuracy, suggesting that language-switching performance reflects complex interactions of bilingual profiles and task demands. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Age-related differences in face recognition: Neural correlates of repetition and semantic priming in young and older adults. 20170227
    Difficulties in person recognition are among the common complaints associated with cognitive ageing. The present series of experiments therefore investigated face and person recognition in young and older adults. The authors examined how within-domain and cross-domain repetition as well as semantic priming affect familiar face recognition and analyzed both behavioral and event-related brain potential (ERP) measures to identify specific processing stages of age-related deficits. During repetition priming (Experiments 1 and 2), the authors observed evidence of an age-related deficit in behavioral priming and clear reductions of both the N250r and the N400 ERP priming effects in older participants. At the same time, both semantic priming (Experiment 3) and the associated N400 ERP effect of semantic priming were largely intact in older adults. The authors suggest that ageing selectively affects the access to domain-general representations of familiar people via bottom-up perceptual processing units. At the same time, accessing domain-general representations via top-down semantic units seems to be relatively preserved in older adults. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Asking better questions: How presentation formats influence information search. 20170320
    While the influence of presentation formats have been widely studied in Bayesian reasoning tasks, we present the first systematic investigation of how presentation formats influence information search decisions. Four experiments were conducted across different probabilistic environments, where subjects (N = 2,858) chose between 2 possible search queries, each with binary probabilistic outcomes, with the goal of maximizing classification accuracy. We studied 14 different numerical and visual formats for presenting information about the search environment, constructed across 6 design features that have been prominently related to improvements in Bayesian reasoning accuracy (natural frequencies, posteriors, complement, spatial extent, countability, and part-to-whole information). The posterior variants of the icon array and bar graph formats led to the highest proportion of correct responses, and were substantially better than the standard probability format. Results suggest that presenting information in terms of posterior probabilities and visualizing natural frequencies using spatial extent (a perceptual feature) were especially helpful in guiding search decisions, although environments with a mixture of probabilistic and certain outcomes were challenging across all formats. Subjects who made more accurate probability judgments did not perform better on the search task, suggesting that simple decision heuristics may be used to make search decisions without explicitly applying Bayesian inference to compute probabilities. We propose a new take-the-difference (TTD) heuristic that identifies the accuracy-maximizing query without explicit computation of posterior probabilities. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)

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