Is variability appropriate? Encoding Variability and Transfer-Appropriate Processing
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Transfer-appropriate processing (TAP) proposes that retrieval success is based on the match between processing at encoding and retrieval. We propose that the processing described by TAP determines the contextual cues that are encoded with an event. At retrieval, the presence or absence of contextual cues matching the encoding cues will influence success. To implement these principles as a strategy to improve memory, the nature of future retrieval processing or cues must be known during encoding. As this is unlikely in real-world memory function, we propose that increased encoding variability – increasing the range of encoded cues – increases the likelihood of TAP when the retrieval scenario is unknown. The larger the set of encoded cues, the more likely those cues will recur during retrieval and therefore achieve TAP. Preliminary research in our lab (Diana, unpublished data) has found that increased encoding variability improves memory for item information in a novel retrieval context. To test whether this benefit to memory is due to the increased likelihood of TAP, the current experiment compared the effects of encoding variability under conditions that emphasize TAP to conditions that reduce TAP. We found main effects of encoding variability and TAP, but no interaction between the two. Planned comparisons between high and low variability encoding contexts within matching and non-matching retrieval contexts did not produce a significant difference between high and low variability when encoding-retrieval processing matched. We conclude that further studies are necessary to determine whether encoding variability has mechanisms that benefit memory beyond TAP.
General Audience Abstract
It is well accepted within the episodic memory literature that successful memory retrieval is often driven by context cues. Specifically, the cues that are stored with the memory of the event. To develop a better understanding of how episodic memory works, we must understand how manipulating context cues changes memory performance. One way to investigate the effects of context manipulation is using encoding variability, which refers to the amount of variability (i.e., change) in context cues from one repetition of an item or event, to the next. Preliminary research in our lab (Diana, unpublished data) has found that increased encoding variability improves memory retrieval in a novel context, but it is unclear why this is the case. We proposed that the mental processing described by transfer-appropriate processing (TAP) – a principle stating that memory retrieval success is determined by the match, or overlap, between the mental processing at encoding (i.e., memory formation) and memory retrieval – determines the contextual cues that are stored with the memory at encoding. We hypothesized that encoding variability works even when TAP has already been achieved by matching the processing and cues at encoding to those at retrieval. Alternatively, we hypothesized that encoding variability works by specifically achieving TAP, so that encoding variability is only helpful when the encoding and retrieval contexts do not match. Results indicated partial support for the alternative hypothesis, suggesting that encoding variability works by achieving TAP. However, these results were not sufficiently conclusive, and it is likely that there are other mechanisms that allow for encoding variability to improve memory. This study establishes the groundwork for future work examining encoding variability and its effects on memory.
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