Memory & Cognition

, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 496–510 | Cite as

Are mnemonic failures and benefits two sides of the same coin?: Investigating the real-world consequences of individual differences in memory integration

  • Nicole L. VargaEmail author
  • Trent Gaugler
  • Jennifer Talarico


Theories of reconstructive memory have long been influenced by investigations of false recognition errors, in which old/new judgements are compromised by spontaneous activation of associated but nonpresented concepts. Recent evidence similarly suggests that reconstructive memory processes (so-called memory integration) also support positive learning behaviors, such as inferential reasoning. Despite prevailing hypotheses, the question of whether a common integration process underlies these seemingly disparate mnemonic outcomes is not well understood. To address this question, young adults, recruited from two institutions, completed the Deese–Roediger–McDermott (Deese, Journal of Experimental Psychology, 58, 17–22, 1959; Roediger & McDermott, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 21(4), 803–814, 1995) and Bransford and Franks (Cognitive Psychology, 2, 331–350, 1971) false recognition paradigms, as well as an inferential paradigm (Varga & Bauer, Memory & Cognition, 45, 1014–1027, 2017b), all of which depend on integration of related information in memory. Across two experiments, the well-established tasks were adapted such that successful memory integration resulted in the same negative outcome (i.e., false recognition; Experiment 1) or positive outcome (i.e., inferential reasoning; Experiment 2). By capturing variability in item-to-item responding within and among tasks for each person, a common memory integration process was found to elicit positive and negative consequences in paradigms that required the combination of individual units to construct a composite understanding, but only when memory for directly learned and novel, integrated items were modeled together. Furthermore, linking task-related behavior to academic performance revealed that a greater propensity to integrate factual information (but not arbitrary materials) was related to higher SAT scores. Together, these results provide evidence for domain-general and domain-specific reconstructive mechanisms and their role in supporting educational success beyond the laboratory.


Memory integration Reconstructive memory Semantic memory Recognition memory Episodic memory 



This research was partially supported by funding from NIH HD67359. The authors extend their sincere appreciation to Patricia J. Bauer for helpful discussions, valuable feedback, and ongoing support throughout the completion of this work. The authors also thank Allison McHayle and Zeyu Xue for collecting data at Lafayette College, as well as Veronica Morgan for assistance with obtaining academic records at Emory University. Finally, the authors extend their appreciation to all the individuals who participated in the research, without whom this work would not have been possible.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole L. Varga
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Trent Gaugler
    • 3
  • Jennifer Talarico
    • 4
  1. 1.PsychologyEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.University of TexasAustinUSA
  3. 3.MathematicsLafayette CollegeEastonUSA
  4. 4.PsychologyLafayette CollegeEastonUSA

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