Do different tests of episodic memory produce consistent results in human adults?
Learning & Memory
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press
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Cheke, L., & Clayton, N. (2013). Do different tests of episodic memory produce consistent results in human adults?. Learning & Memory, 20 491-498. https://doi.org/10.1101/lm.030502.113
A number of different philosophical, theoretical, and empirical perspectives on episodic memory have led to the development of very different tests with which to assess it. Although these tests putatively assess the same psychological capacity, they have rarely been directly compared. Here, a sample of undergraduates was tested on three different putative tests of episodic memory (What-Where-When, Unexpected Question/Source Memory, and Free Recall). It was predicted that to the extent to which these different tests are assessing the same psychological process, performance across the various tests should be positively correlated. It was found that not all tests were related and those relationships that did exist were not always linear. Instead, two tests showed a quadratic relationship, suggesting the contribution of multiple psychological processes. It is concluded that not all putative tests of episodic cognition are necessarily testing the same thing. Episodic memory is the ability to mentally relive one’s own past events. Most psychologists would agree on what episodic memory is, and that when they discuss this ability they are talking about the same phenomenon. As Suddendorf and Corballis (2007) put it, “… we know what [episodic memory] is because we can introspectively observe ourselves doing it and because people spend so much time talking about their recollections.” However, perhaps because of such reference to the personal experience of remembering, people tend to have slightly different working definitions of episodic memory. Such small differences in working definition have produced large differences in the behavioral criteria used to study episodic memory, and lead to significant inconsistency in how this ability is tested. As well as being studied in its own right, episodic memory is investigated within a number of distinct yet overlapping memory literatures (e.g., source memory, autobiographical memory, long-term memory), each of whose definitions are in turn distinct yet overlapping. Furthermore, various literatures within the field may use the same name for two potentially different processes, or different names for what may be a single process. On top of this, psychological tests are sometimes labeled for the way they assess memory (e.g., free recall [FR], cued recall), sometimes for the nature of what is remembered (e.g., source memory), and sometimes for the memory that they putatively test (episodic memory test, semantic memory test), though different researchers disagree on which of the former correspond to which of the latter. Because of all this, the internal consistency of the episodic memory literature is limited, with very different tasks being used to assess the same ability. Unfortunately many of these tasks have never been tested in the same species, let alone within the same subjects, and consequently we have no idea to what extent performance across the various tasks might be related. The present study aims to address this problem by assessing the extent to which some of these different putative tests of episodic cognition assess the same or related cognitive processes in adult humans. To the extent that these different tests do test the same underlying cognitive ability, the prediction is that they will be positively correlated when tested in the same subjects.
We thank the research students who were involved in this project, Mathilda Hay and Stephanie Bailey. We also thank Netta Chachuma and Francesca Lewis for help on an early version of this study, and James Thom, Ljerka Ostojic, Jon Simons, and Tom Smulders for commenting on versions of the manuscript, and Daniel Booth and Anthony Cheke for proofreading. Special thanks to Chris Stephenson for creating, maintaining, and updating the computer-based task. L.G.C. was funded by an MRC doctoral training studentship, an MRC Centenary Early Career Award, and a Junior Research Fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge.
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1101/lm.030502.113
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/252755
Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales
Licence URL: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/uk/
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