Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition

  • Morphological variability in second language learners: An examination of electrophysiological and production data. 20170323
    We examined sources of morphological variability in second language (L2) learners of Spanish whose native language (L1) is English, with a focus on L1-L2 similarity, morphological markedness, and knowledge type (receptive vs. expressive). Experiment 1 uses event-related potentials to examine noun-adjective number (present in L1) and gender agreement (absent in L1) in online sentence comprehension (receptive knowledge). For each feature, markedness was manipulated, such that half of the critical noun-adjective combinations were feminine (marked) and the other half were masculine; half were used in the plural (marked) and the other half were used in the singular. With this setup, we examined learners’ potential overreliance on unmarked forms or “defaults” (singular/masculine). Experiment 2 examines similar dependencies in spoken sentence production (expressive knowledge). Learners (n = 22) performed better with number than gender overall, but their brain responses to both features were qualitatively native-like (i.e., P600), even though gender was probed with nouns that do not provide strong distributional cues to gender. In addition, variability with gender agreement was better accounted for by lexical (as opposed to syntactic) aspects. Learners showed no advantage for comprehension over production, and no systematic evidence of reliance on morphological defaults, although their online processing was sensitive to markedness in a native-like manner. Overall, these results suggest that there is facilitation for L2 properties that exist in the L1 and that markedness impacts L2 processing, but in a native-like manner. These results also speak against proposals arguing that adult L2ers have deficits at the level of the morphology or the syntax. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Distinguishing discrete and gradient category structure in language: Insights from verb-particle constructions. 20170313
    The current work uses memory errors to examine the mental representation of verb-particle constructions (VPCs; e.g., make up the story, cut up the meat). Some evidence suggests that VPCs are represented by a cline in which the relationship between the VPC and its component elements ranges from highly transparent (cut up) to highly idiosyncratic (make up). Other evidence supports a multiple class representation, characterizing VPCs as belonging to discretely separated classes differing in semantic and syntactic structure. We outline a novel paradigm to investigate the representation of VPCs in which we elicit illusory conjunctions, or memory errors sensitive to syntactic structure. We then use a novel application of piecewise regression to demonstrate that the resulting error pattern follows a cline rather than discrete classes. A preregistered replication verifies these findings, and a final preregistered study verifies that these errors reflect syntactic structure. This provides evidence for gradient rather than discrete representations across levels of representation in language processing. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
  • A two-phase model of resource allocation in visual working memory. 20170302
    Two broad theories of visual working memory (VWM) storage have emerged from current research, a discrete slot-based theory and a continuous resource theory. However, neither the discrete slot-based theory or continuous resource theory clearly stipulates how the mental commodity for VWM (discrete slot or continuous resource) is allocated. Allocation may be based on the number of items via stimulus-driven factors, or it may be based on task demands via voluntary control. Previous studies have obtained conflicting results regarding the automaticity versus controllability of such allocation. In the current study, we propose a two-phase allocation model, in which the mental commodity could be allocated only by stimulus-driven factors in the early consolidation phase. However, when there is sufficient time to complete the early phase, allocation can enter the late consolidation phase, where it can be flexibly and voluntarily controlled according to task demands. In an orientation recall task, we instructed participants to store either fewer items at high-precision or more items at low-precision. In 3 experiments, we systematically manipulated memory set size and exposure duration. We did not find an effect of task demands when the set size was high and exposure duration was short. However, when we either decreased the set size or increased the exposure duration, we found a trade-off between the number and precision of VWM representations. These results can be explained by a two-phase model, which can also account for previous conflicting findings in the literature. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
  • The case of the missing visual details: Occlusion and long-term visual memory. 20170302
    To investigate the critical information in long-term visual memory representations of objects, we used occlusion to emphasize 1 type of information or another. By occluding 1 solid side of the object (e.g., top 50%) or by occluding 50% of the object with stripes (like a picket fence), we emphasized visible information about the object, processing the visible details in the former and the object’s overall form in the latter. On a token discrimination test, surprisingly, memory for solid or stripe occluded objects at either encoding (Experiment 1) or test (Experiment 2) was the same. In contrast, when occluded objects matched at encoding and test (Experiment 3) or when the occlusion shifted, revealing the entire object piecemeal (Experiment 4), memory was better for solid compared with stripe occluded objects, indicating that objects are represented differently in long-term visual memory. Critically, we also found that when the task emphasized remembering exactly what was shown, memory performance in the more detailed solid occlusion condition exceeded that in the stripe condition (Experiment 5). However, when the task emphasized the whole object form, memory was better in the stripe condition (Experiment 6) than in the solid condition. We argue that long-term visual memory can represent objects flexibly, and task demands can interact with visual information, allowing the viewer to cope with changing real-world visual environments. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Free recall test experience potentiates strategy-driven effects of value on memory. 20170410
    People tend to show better memory for information that is deemed valuable or important. By one mechanism, individuals selectively engage deeper, semantic encoding strategies for high value items (Cohen, Rissman, Suthana, Castel, & Knowlton, 2014). By another mechanism, information paired with value or reward is automatically strengthened in memory via dopaminergic projections from midbrain to hippocampus (Shohamy & Adcock, 2010). We hypothesized that the latter mechanism would primarily enhance recollection-based memory, while the former mechanism would strengthen both recollection and familiarity. We also hypothesized that providing interspersed tests during study is a key to encouraging selective engagement of strategies. To test these hypotheses, we presented participants with sets of words, and each word was associated with a high or low point value. In some experiments, free recall tests were given after each list. In all experiments, a recognition test was administered 5 minutes after the final word list. Process dissociation was accomplished via remember/know judgments at recognition, a recall test probing both item memory and memory for a contextual detail (word plurality), and a task dissociation combining a recognition test for plurality (intended to probe recollection) with a speeded item recognition test (to probe familiarity). When recall tests were administered after study lists, high value strengthened both recollection and familiarity. When memory was not tested after each study list, but rather only at the end, value increased recollection but not familiarity. These dual process dissociations suggest that interspersed recall tests guide learners’ use of metacognitive control to selectively apply effective encoding strategies. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Long-term memory biases auditory spatial attention. 20170410
    Long-term memory (LTM) has been shown to bias attention to a previously learned visual target location. Here, we examined whether memory-predicted spatial location can facilitate the detection of a faint pure tone target embedded in real world audio clips (e.g., soundtrack of a restaurant). During an initial familiarization task, participants heard audio clips, some of which included a lateralized target (p = 50%). On each trial participants indicated whether the target was presented from the left, right, or was absent. Following a 1 hr retention interval, participants were presented with the same audio clips, which now all included a target. In Experiment 1, participants showed memory-based gains in response time and d′. Experiment 2 showed that temporal expectations modulate attention, with greater memory-guided attention effects on performance when temporal context was reinstated from learning (i.e., when timing of the target within audio clips was not changed from initially learned timing). Experiment 3 showed that while conscious recall of target locations was modulated by exposure to target-context associations during learning (i.e., better recall with higher number of learning blocks), the influence of LTM associations on spatial attention was not reduced (i.e., number of learning blocks did not affect memory-guided attention). Both Experiments 2 and 3 showed gains in performance related to target-context associations, even for associations that were not explicitly remembered. Together, these findings indicate that memory for audio clips is acquired quickly and is surprisingly robust; both implicit and explicit LTM for the location of a faint target tone modulated auditory spatial attention. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Accumulating evidence about what prospective memory costs actually reveal. 20170406
    Event-based prospective memory (PM) tasks require participants to substitute an atypical PM response for an ongoing task response when presented with PM targets. Responses to ongoing tasks are often slower with the addition of PM demands (“PM costs”). Prominent PM theories attribute costs to capacity-sharing between the ongoing and PM tasks, which reduces the rate of processing of the ongoing task. We modeled PM costs using the Linear Ballistic Accumulator and the Diffusion Decision Model in a lexical-decision task with nonfocal PM targets defined by semantic categories. Previous decision modeling, which attributed costs to changes in caution rather than rate of processing (Heathcote et al., 2015; Horn & Bayen, 2015), could be criticized on the grounds that the PM tasks included did not sufficiently promote capacity-sharing. Our semantic PM task was potentially more dependent on lexical decision resources than previous tasks (Marsh, Hicks, & Cook, 2005), yet costs were again driven by changes in threshold and not by changes in processing speed (drift rate). Costs resulting from a single target focal PM task were also driven by threshold changes. The increased thresholds underlying nonfocal and focal costs were larger for word trials than nonword trials. As PM targets were always words, this suggests that threshold increases are used to extend the time available for retrieval on PM trials. Under nonfocal conditions, but not focal conditions, the nonword threshold also increased. Thus, it seems that only nonfocal instructions cause a global threshold increase because of greater perceived task complexity. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
  • Abrupt strategy change underlies gradual performance change: Bayesian hierarchical models of component and aggregate strategy use. 20170410
    While researchers have often sought to understand the learning curve in terms of multiple component processes, few studies have measured and mathematically modeled these processes on a complex task. In particular, there remains a need to reconcile how abrupt changes in strategy use can co-occur with gradual changes in task completion time. Thus, the current study aimed to assess the degree to which strategy change was abrupt or gradual, and whether strategy aggregation could partially explain gradual performance change. It also aimed to show how Bayesian methods could be used to model the effect of practice on strategy use. To achieve these aims, 162 participants completed 15 blocks of practice on a complex computer-based task—the Wynton-Anglim booking (WAB) task. The task allowed for multiple component strategies (i.e., memory retrieval, information reduction, and insight) that could also be aggregated to a global measure of strategy use. Bayesian hierarchical models were used to compare abrupt and gradual functions of component and aggregate strategy use. Task completion time was well-modeled by a power function, and global strategy use explained substantial variance in performance. Change in component strategy use tended to be abrupt, whereas change in global strategy use was gradual and well-modeled by a power function. Thus, differential timing of component strategy shifts leads to gradual changes in overall strategy efficiency, and this provides one reason for why smooth learning curves can co-occur with abrupt changes in strategy use. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)

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