Recognition Memory for Pictorial Events: Fusion or Features
This research investigated recognition memory for picture stories. Jenkins, Wald and Pittenger (1978) had found that when subjects viewed a slide sequence which depicted an every-day event, in a later recognition memory test they correctly rejected distractors which were inconsistent with the event but falsely accepted consistent distractors. Jenkins interpreted this result as evidence that fusion - the abstraction of visual events - determined memory performance. He argued that subjects compared the test slides to the abstracted event and accepted those which were consistent with the event. A series of experiments examined the possibility that performance was due not to fusion but to confusion with respect to the featural details of the stimulus material. This alternative interpretation argued that consistent slides had more features in common with acquisition slides than did the inconsistent slides and that the variables of semantic consistency and featural similarity had been confounded. The first experiment manipulated acquisition material and found that subjects who saw a disordered acquisition sequence falsely accepted consistent slides. The second experiment manipulated acquisition conditions and found that subjects who were inhibited from fusing the event by being required to perform a non-semantic task during acquisition falsely accepted consistent slides. Neither of these results supported a fusion interpretation since acceptance of consistent slides occurred under conditions where fusion of the event was not expected. The third experiment manipulated the test conditions and found that acceptance of both consistent and inconsistent slides was less likely with delayed tests although fusion of the event should have led to no change in the likelihood of accepting inconsistent slides. The fourth and fifth experiments re-examined the manipulation of presentation order and demonstrated that subjects were unable to reconstruct the event from a disordered sequence and yet still falsely accepted consistent slides. Each test of the fusion interpretation which had attempted to separate the variables of features and meaning indirectly had indicated that recognition performance was not due to abstraction of the visual event. A final experiment attempted to find explicit evidence for a featural interpretation of the results by directly varying featural similarity of consistent distractor slides to slides from the originally viewed sequence while keeping the degree of semantic consistency constant. Although this experiment failed to support a featural account, the converging evidence from all experiments indicated that recognition memory for picture stories is based to a large extent on the featural properties of the stimulus material. An account of performance solely in terms of visual abstraction is not adequate. Moreover, unless the variables of featural similarity and meaning can be separated directly in the test material, this recognition paradigm is unlikely to provide a means for examining the influence of schemata on recognition memory for picture stories.