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Intending to Remember Information: The Effectiveness and Speed of Attentional Allocation. Richard A. Block Montana State University. Introduction: Two Questions. Is intentionality—intending to remember information—effective or even necessary for remembering?.

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intending to remember information the effectiveness and speed of attentional allocation
Intending to Remember Information: The Effectiveness and Speed of Attentional Allocation

Richard A. BlockMontana State University

introduction two questions
Introduction: Two Questions

Is intentionality—intending to remember information—effective or even necessary for remembering?

If intentionality improves memory, how quickly can attentional resources be allocated to enhance remembering?

intentionality and memory history
Intentionality and Memory: History

Issues concerning intentionality and memory were studied as early as the late 1800s.

In 1913, Meumann asserted:

“If we have the will to imprint the observed data upon memory in order that we might subsequently be able to reproduce them, we actually retain them more readily; and when the will to remember is lacking, the incorporation into memory fails to take place, or if it does occur, it is a matter of sheer accident.”

incidental memory early history
Incidental Memory: Early History

However, Shellow (1923) studied incidental memory, and she said that:

“Incidental memory is only ‘capricious’ when we do not know its determining factors, but once these are analyzed . . . we find incidental memory as logical and as inevitable as the better accredited form of direct [intentional] memory.”

incidental memory later history
Incidental Memory: Later History

Three decades later, Postman and Phillips (1954) said:

“The fact that [subjects] will learn even when they are not explicitly instructed to do so has been repeatedly demonstrated.”

Postman (1964) even asserted that:

“Intent per se is not a significant variable in learning.”

incidental memory recent history
Incidental Memory: Recent History

This view was supported in the mid-1970s with the introduction of the levels-of-processing framework, in which memory performance depended on the “depth” of an orienting task but not much on intentionality (i.e., whether or not subjects were instructed to remember the presented information).

The research that is most often cited was conducted by Hyde and Jenkins (1973), who used several kinds of orienting tasks as well as incidental- versus intentional-memory conditions.

hyde and jenkins 1973
Hyde and Jenkins (1973)

Hyde and Jenkins found a large effect of orienting task on word recall, and a small but significanteffect of intentionality.

misreading of hyde and jenkins
Misreading of Hyde and Jenkins

However, a few psychologists apparently did not read Hyde and Jenkins carefully. One, who should remain nameless, said that: “The Hyde and Jenkins (1973) study shows that intention to learn has no effect at all”

(Willingham, 2007).

limitations of previous research
Limitations of Previous Research

Research on intentionality and memory have been limited in two main ways:

  • Nearly all previous researchers have used verbal stimuli, such as words. We chose to investigate pictorial stimuli.
  • Nearly all previous researchers have used relatively long stimulus durations or repeated presentations. We chose to investigate shorter durations (0.5-3.0 s).
intentionality and automaticity
Intentionality and Automaticity

The concept of intentionality is closely related to that of automaticity (automatic vs. controlled processes):

  • Incidental learning requires component processes that occur automatically, not in a controlled way.
  • Intentional learning involves component processes that are controlled, although component processes that are automatic (if there are any) may be involved.
criteria for automaticity
Criteria for Automaticity

Several criteria must be met to conclude that a process is automatic. These include:

  • It is obligatory—cannot be suppressed.
  • It is not influenced by arousal, stress, or simultaneous information-processing demands.
  • It cannot be improved much by training or providing feedback.
  • It does not vary much as a function of age, sex, educational level, and so on.
  • It occurs without intention, and the information that is encoded incidentally is no different from that which is encoded intentionally.
human face encoding
Human Face Encoding

We began by investigating effects of intentionality on recognition memory for human faces. This provides a relatively strong test of effects of intentionality because many of the component processes in face encoding are thought to occur automatically.

Only so-called internal features (eyes, nose, mouth) may be encoded automatically; external features (facial hair, eyeglasses, jewelry) may need to be encoded with controlled processes.

experiment 1 eyeglass memory
Experiment 1: Eyeglass Memory

Experiment 1 investigated whether or not encoding and remembering of an external feature of faces—eyeglasses—is automatic or controlled.

materials and procedure
Materials and Procedure

We presented a series of computer-generated faces, each either with or without eyeglasses. Here are some examples:

OR

OR

design
Design

All subjects were told that they would later be asked to recognize each of the presented faces.

Half the subjects were told to try to remember whether each face had eyeglasses (intentional condition), and half were told nothing about eyeglasses (incidental condition).

effect on face recognition
Effect on Face Recognition

Face recognition was not influenced by intent to remember eyeglasses (but, of course, all subjects were asked to remember the faces).

effect on eyeglass memory
Effect on Eyeglass Memory

Memory for an external face feature (eyeglasses, given face recognition) was influenced by intentionality.

experiment 1 conclusion
Experiment 1: Conclusion

Encoding an external feature of faces involves controlled (effortful) processes because it was influenced by memory condition. Intending to encode eyeglasses improved memory for eyeglasses. Encoding such features may also involve some automatic processes, because performance was above chance in the incidental-memory condition.

intentionality methodological issues
Intentionality: Methodological Issues

Is remembering faces automatic? In order to minimize the likelihood that people in an incidental-memory condition may deliberately try to remember the faces, one of two methods must be used:

  • A cover story, in which a person is told a plausible story that does not involve memory.
  • A cover task, in which a person performs a task that does not involve memory (as in most levels-of-processing experiments).
experiment 2 face encoding per se
Experiment 2: Face Encoding per se

Experiment 2 investigated whether or not encoding faces per se is automatic or controlled.

We used a cover story: Subjects were told that we were studying how a person’s mood is affected by crowds of people and that we would show pictures of faces and later ask them to report their mood.

Half the subjects were told that memory for faces would be tested later.

The faces were the same as in Experiment 1 except that none of them had eyeglasses.

effect on face recognition1
Effect on Face Recognition

Face recognition was influenced by intentionality (to remember faces): Performance was better in the intentional than in the incidental condition.

experiment 3 speed of face encoding
Experiment 3: Speed of Face Encoding

Experiment 3 investigated the speed of controlled (intentional) encoding of faces.

We used a cover task: All subjects were told that they would see pictures of cars, chairs, human faces, and birds and that their task was to try to count the total number of cars they saw.

Only subjects in the intentional-memory condition were told that their memory for faces would also be tested later.

materials and procedure1
Materials and Procedure

Here are some examples of the four types of pictures:

In a randomly ordered series, half the pictures of each type were presented for 1 s, and half were presented for 3 s.

Thanks to Shlomo Bentin for the pictures.

effect on face recognition2
Effect on Face Recognition

Face recognition was better in the intentional condition than in the incidental condition at both durations.

experiment 4 speed of bird encoding
Experiment 4: Speed of Bird Encoding

Experiment 4 investigated the speed of controlled (intentional) encoding of bird pictures.

We again used a cover task: Subjects were told that they would see pictures of cars, chairs, human faces, and birds and that their task was to try to count the total number of cars they saw.

Subjects in the intentional-memory condition were told that their memory for birds would also be tested later.

The materials and procedure were otherwise identical to the previous experiment.

effect on bird recognition
Effect on Bird Recognition

Bird recognition was better in the intentional condition and at the longer duration, but there was no interaction.

experiment 5 human vs ape vs bird
Experiment 5: Human vs. Ape vs. Bird

Experiment 5 compared the speed of controlled (intentional) encoding of human faces, ape faces, and birds.

We again used a cover task: All subjects were told that they would see cars, birds, human faces, and ape faces and that their task was to try to count the total number of cars they saw.

Subjects in the intentional-memory condition were told that their memory for either human faces, ape faces, or birds would be tested later.

Subjects in the incidental-memory condition were not told that their memory for either human faces, ape faces, or birds would be tested later.

materials and procedure2
Materials and Procedure

Here are some examples of the four types of pictures:

In a randomly ordered series, half the pictures of each type were presented for 0.5 s and half for 2.0 s. Note this reduction in stimulus duration from Experiment 4.

effect on overall recognition
Effect on OVERALL Recognition

The intentionality effect was small (d=0.33) but significant at 0.5 s and medium (d=0.49) at 2.0 s. The interaction effect was not significant.

effect on bird recognition1
Effect on BIRD Recognition

Intentionality improved bird recognition (although it was only significant at 2.0 s). The interaction effect was not significant.

effect on ape face recognition
Effect on APE-FACE Recognition

Intentionality improved ape-face recognition at both 0.5 s and 2.0 s. The interaction effect was not significant.

effect on human face recognition
Effect on HUMAN-FACE Recognition

Intentionality improved human-face recognition (although it was only significant at 2.0 s). Again, the interaction effect was not significant.

intentionality explanations
Intentionality: Explanations

Rehearsal is not a likely explanation, because people apparently cannot rehearse pictures (e.g., Hintzman & Rogers, 1973).

How does intentionality work?

Depth of processing is also not a likely explanation. How can people deeply process a stimulus in about 500 ms, even if they know what deep processing entails?

Perhaps people can rapidly (within 500 ms) mobilize attentional resources. They may also be engaging in conservation of attentional resources over the relatively long (5-10 s) periods separating to-be-remembered stimuli.

attentional gate model
Attentional Gate Model

Reeves and Sperling (1986) found evidence for a so-called attentional gate that can “open” within 400 ms, allowing effective short-term memory encoding of information.

In addition to providing much-needed evidence on intentionality, our findings support this notion.

psychophysiological evidence
Psychophysiological Evidence

Human face encoding is linked to the N170 component of the ERP (Gauthier & Curby, 2005), suggesting that automatic face encoding occurs quickly. Does intentionality have a subsequent effect (i.e., within the range from 170 to 500 ms)?

In contrast to pictures viewed under incidental conditions, those viewed under intentional-memory conditions produce ERP changes in the range of 250-450 ms (Noldy et al., 1990).

Our memory data support and extend these findings.

face encoding revisited
Face Encoding Revisited

Human face encoding apparently relies on automatic processing, as reflected in N170 component of the ERP.

However, beginning at about 500 ms, intent to remember a face enhances subsequent memory, presumably as a result of a rapid allocation of attentional resources. This processing is not a result of automatic component processes, but is a result of controlled component processes.

Similar effects are seen for other pictorial stimuli (ape faces and birds), although they may lack the automatic, early (N170) component.

summary and conclusions
Summary and Conclusions

Intentional encoding of pictorial information enhances subsequent recognition memory, even at short (500 ms) stimulus durations.

Manipulating intentionality reveals whether or not some component stimulus-encoding processes are controlled.

Previous conclusions about intentionality and memory, based mainly on verbal materials presented for longer durations, should be viewed with caution.

Attentional resources may be rapidly mobilized in order to enhance subsequent remembering of information.

acknowledgements
Acknowledgements

At Tel-Aviv University, my colleague—

DAN ZAKAY

I thank many researchers who assisted me.

At Montana State University, student researchers—

MELISSA BANKS

FRANK BOSCO

MATTHEW CLONINGER

JEREMY FLEMING

CATHERINE GAULT

ERIK JOHNSON

AARON RICHMOND

TYSON ROTH

references
References

Gauthier, I., & Curby, K. M. (2005). A perceptual traffic jam on Highway N170: Interference between face and car expertise. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 30-33.

Hintzman, D. L., & Rogers, M. K. (1973). Spacing effects in picture memory. Memory & Cognition, 1, 430-434.

Hyde, T. S., & Jenkins, J. J. (1973). Recall for words as a function of semantic, graphic, and syntactic orienting tasks. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 12, 471-480.

Kahneman, D. (1973). Attention and effort. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Meumann, E. (1913). The psychology of learning (J. W. Baird, Trans., 3rd ed.). New York: Appleton.

Myers, G. C. (1913). A study in incidental memory. Archives of Psychology, 4.

Noldy, N. E., Stelmack, R. M., & Campbell, K. B. (1990). Event-related potentials and recognition memory for pictures and words: The effects of intentional and incidental learning. Psychophysiology, 27, 417-428.

Postman, L. (1964). Short-term memory and incidental learning. In A. W. Melton (Ed.), Categories of human learning. New York: Academic Press.

Postman, L. U., & Phillips, L. W. (1954). Studies in incidental learning: I. The effects of crowding and isolation. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 48, 48-56.

Reeves, A., & Sperling, G. (1986). Attention gating in short-term visual memory. Psychological Review, 93, 180-206.

Shellow, S. M. (1923). Individual differences in incidental memory. Archives of Psychology, 64.

Willingham, D. T. (2007). Cognition: The thinking animal. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.