Mechanisms of word concreteness effects in explicit memory: Does context availability play a role?
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One explanation for why concrete words are recalled better than abstract words is systematic differences across these word types in the availability of context information. In contrast, explanations for the concrete-word advantage in recognition memory do not consider a possible role for context availability. We investigated the extent to which context availability can explain the effects of word concreteness in both free recall (Exp. 1) and item recognition (Exp. 2) by presenting each target word in isolation, in a low-constraint sentence context, or in a high-constraint sentence context at study. Concreteness effects were consistent with those from previous research, with concrete-word advantages in both tasks. Embedding words in sentence contexts with low semantic constraint hurt recall performance but helped recognition performance, relative to presenting words in isolation. Embedding words in sentence contexts with high semantic constraint hurt both recall and recognition performance, relative to words in low-constraint sentences. The effects of concreteness and semantic constraint were consistent for both high- and low-frequency words. Embedding words in high-constraint sentence contexts neither reduced nor eliminated the concreteness effect in recall or recognition, indicating that differences in context availability cannot explain concreteness effects in explicit memory.
KeywordsFree recall Recognition Concreteness Word frequency Context availability
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