Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award

January 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Larry Jacoby


Studies of recognition memory have generally involved tests in which the participant's memory is directly questioned. There are occasions, however, in which memory is more spontaneous in nature: e.g., recognizing an acquaintance out of context). The current studies investigated spontaneous recognition memory through the use of a memory Stroop paradigm, which involved study of pictures and words followed by recognition memory decisions on either the picture or word component of stimuli with an old or new word superimposed over an old or new picture. Spontaneous recognition was measured by comparing the influence of old as compared to new distracters on the probability of responding "old" to target items. The primary aim of the current studies was to explore the relationship between retrieval constraint and spontaneous recognition of distracting information. The results revealed that spontaneous recognition was more likely to occur when retrieval was less constrained to goal relevant information as a result of having to switch between decisions on pictures and words. In contrast, when participants were placed under testing conditions that allowed consistent decisions to be made on the same stimulus type, spontaneous recognition was not revealed. The results also yielded partial evidence to suggest that spontaneous recognition may be more likely to occur when the distracter is made more fluent as a result of having been repeated during study. Finally, a manipulation involving differential constraint of memory search to the list source in which items were originally studied yielded marginally significant effects, such that source constraint to a particular list target was associated with increased processing of distracters belonging to the list being constrained to. Taken together, the results suggest that spontaneous recognition may be more likely to occur when demands are placed on controlled processing and that spontaneous recognition may be qualitatively modulated by the way control is being oriented in one's environment.


Permanent URL: