Intending to Remember: Rapid Mobilization of Attention Enhances Memory Richard A. Block Montana State University Introduction: Two Questions Is intending to remember information effective or even necessary for remembering?
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Richard A. BlockMontana State University
Is intending to remember information effective or even necessary for remembering?
If intending to remember improves memory, how quickly can attentional resources be allocated to enhance remembering?
Issues concerning intentional- versus incidental- memory began to be studied in the late 1800s.
By the 1960s, some researchers concluded that “intent per se is not a significant variable in learning” (Postman, 1964).
This view was supported in the mid-1970s: Research on levels-of-processing suggested that memory depends on the “depth” of an orienting task but not much on whether or not subjects are instructed to remember the presented information.
Research on intent to remember has been limited in two main ways:
The concept of intention is closely related to that of automaticity (automatic vs. controlled processes):
Several criteria must be met to conclude that a process is automatic. These include:
We began by investigating effects of intent on recognition memory for human faces. This provides a relatively strong test of effects of intent because many of the component processes in face encoding are thought to occur automatically.
In order to minimize the likelihood that people in an incidental-memory condition may deliberately try to remember stimuli, one of two methods must be used:
Experiment 1 investigated whether encoding faces is automatic, controlled, or both.
Recognition performance was better in the intentional than in the incidental condition.
Experiment 2 investigated the speed of controlled (intentional) encoding of faces.
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.
Face recognition was better in the intentional condition at both durations.
Experiment 3 investigated the speed of controlled (intentional) encoding of bird pictures.
Bird recognition was better in the intentional condition and at the longer duration.
Experiment 4 compared the speed of controlled (intentional) encoding of human faces, ape faces, and birds.
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 3.
The effect of intent was small (d=0.33) but significant at 0.5 s and medium (d=0.49) at 2.0 s.
Intentional memory improved bird recognition (although only significantly at 2.0 s).
Intentional memory improved ape-face recognition at both 0.5 s and 2.0 s.
Intentional memory improved human-face recognition (although only significantly at 2.0 s).
How does intent to remember work?
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 intending to remember, our findings support this notion.
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.
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.
Similar effects are seen for other pictorial stimuli (ape faces and birds), although they may lack the automatic, early (N170) component.
Intentional encoding of pictorial information enhances subsequent recognition memory, even at short (500 ms) stimulus durations.
Manipulating intentional- versus incidental-memory reveals whether or not some component stimulus-encoding processes are controlled.
Previous conclusions about intending to remember, 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.
At Tel Aviv University, my colleague—
I thank many researchers who assisted me.
At Montana State University, student researchers—
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.
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.
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.
Reeves, A., & Sperling, G. (1986). Attention gating in short-term visual memory. Psychological Review, 93, 180-206.