Article Title: Remembering by the Seat of Your Pants
Journal: PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Volume 16—Number 7 P525-529
Author: Stephen D. Goldinger and Whitney A. Hansen， Arizona State University
ABSTRACT—According to dual-process theories of memory, ‘‘old’’ responses in recognition may reflect the separate or combined effects of two states, specific recollection and feelings of nonspecific familiarity. When decisions are based on familiarity, people may attribute enhanced perceptual fluency to memory for prior occurrence. In this experiment, we tested whether a subliminal somatic cue (a low-amplitude buzz) could enhance feelings of familiarity.
The buzz increased the likelihood that participants responded ‘‘old,’’ both correctly and incorrectly. This effect occurred only with subjectively difficult stimuli, those relativelyunlikely to elicit clear recollection.Whenastronger control buzz was used, the effect vanished. Results for confidence ratings were consistent with Whittlesea’s SCAPE theory, producing a dissociation between hits and false alarms. Specifically, the buzz reduced confidence in hits and increased confidence in false alarms, in accord with the most likely attributions for the feelings of familiarity associated with the buzz.
People often report high levels of confidence when recalling memories from the past. Although it is common to have the feeling that you did indeed remember a particular experience, there are many demonstrations suggesting that illusions of memory occur more frequently than commonly thought. Many of these memory illusions revolve around the concept of fluency. The purpose of the current research (Goldinger & Hanson, 2005) is to extend previous notions about the nature and role of fluency in mediating illusions of memory.
Fluency refers to the observation that re-experiencing a repeated event may feel easier, or more fluent, than experiencing a novel event for the first time. For example,the first time riding a bike may seem difficult, but with practice and repeated experience, riding a bike becomes very easy, and this subjective experience of easiness is termed fluency. Because repeated experiences are associated with a feeling of fluency, the feeling of fluency may serve as a good cue for determining whether or not a current experience was indeed experienced in the past. Specifically, when presented with a stimulus, if processing of that stimulus feels fluent then people may become convinced that this stimulus was previously experienced. That is people will rely on a feeling of fluency to make judgments about memory. As a result, even people have not experienced a particular stimulus in the past, anything that induces a feeling of fluency at the time of the memory test, may also induce an illusion that the stimulus has been previously experienced. That is, people may misattribute a feeling of fluency for a prior experience that did not in fact occur.
The present research is generally aimed at understanding the kind of memory illusions that are mediated by processes involved in the misattribution of fluency.Importantly, the current research extends previous notions about fluency, andsuggests that similar kinds of memory illusions may occur by inducing an ambiguous feeling state at the time of the memory test. This ambiguous feeling state would not be directly related to a fluency manipulation. The overarching idea is that people may, in some circumstances, be willing to misattribute ambiguous feeling states for a prior experience that did not in fact occur. To test this possibility, the authors employed a novel chair-buzzing manipulation.
Participants were given lists of words and pictures of varying difficulty in a memory encoding phase. Then participants were given a recognition memory test for the items in the list. During the memory test phase, participants sat on a chair equipped with a speaker apparatus (not visible to participant’s, but strapped under the chair). The speaker was capable of buzzing the seat of the chair. Using this apparatus, participant’s were buzzed in the seat of their pants during the presentation of a portion of the memory test items. Importantly, half of the participants were informed that the chair would be emitting buzzes; however, the remaining half of the participants were not informed, and for the most part did not become aware of the buzzing.
The results indicated that Buzz-unaware participants were more likely to claim that a difficult test item was old when they were given a buzz in their pants. In contrast, recognition performance for the Buzz-aware participants was not influenced at all by the buzz. One interpretation of these results, is that people were willing to interpret (or misattribute) an ambiguous feeling state (the buzz) for a specific prior experience.
The findings, although peculiar, are suggestive about the nature of memory and remembering in real-life circumstances. Specifically, when attempting to remember something in the real-world, it is apparently possible to induce feelings of memories just by inducing a vague and ambiguous feeling state. An interesting line of questioning may be to consider the kinds of stimulation in the real-world that could potentially operate in a similar fashion to the buzzing chair. For example, there are many kinds of environmental stimulation that may not be consciously recognized by an observer. These kinds of stimulation could include faint sounds, wind blowing, flickering lights, ambient conversation, underlying aches and pains, bumps in the road…the list could go on. In many situations, these kinds of external stimulation may produce ambiguous feeling states. To be clear, an ambiguous feeling state is one in which the body is clearly experiencing stimulation, but the person experiencing stimulation is 1) not clearly aware of the stimulation, or 2) not able to identify the stimulation. If we assume that people may be experiencing many ambiguous feeling states on a regular basis during an average day, it is worth considering the extent to which people may be also routinely susceptible to the kinds of memory illusions described by Goldinger & Hanson (2005). Indeed, a worthwhile venture for previous research might be to extend the current findings to demonstrate that ambient stimulation in the natural environment can also produce similar memory illusions outside the laboratory context.