Using Emails to Quantify the Impact of Prior Exposure on Word Recognition Memory

AbstractRecognition memory studies have reliably demonstrated the word frequency effect (WFE), where low-frequency words are more accurately recognized than high-frequency words. The context noise account of WFE argues that pre-experimental exposure to stimuli generates interference that compromises high-frequency words more than low-frequency words. Because the representations of the contexts associated with more recent exposures are assumed to overlap more with the representation of the study context, stimuli that have been seen more recently are thought to generate the most interference. We asked participants to log their daily email for two months. Based on the participant’s email corpus, we constructed an individualized study-test recognition memory task to investigate the effect of recency. Results show that recency has a graded effect on recognition memory that extends for at least two months providing support for the context noise account.

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