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Brent Strickland, Frank Keil; Event Extension: Event Based Inferences Distort Memory in a Matter of Seconds. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):1129. doi: 10.1167/11.11.1129.
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We tend to think and talk about continuously unfolding time lines in discrete terms. Imagine, for example, a series of events that consists of picking up a pen, taking the cap off and signing one's name on a piece of paper. Even though time progresses continuously, we typically conceptualize this as a series of three discrete events with clear temporal boundaries. Untrained observers have been shown to spontaneously create discrete “event files” like this that can have powerful effects on memory of and attention to ongoing activities (Zacks et al., 2006; Swallow et al., 2009). Here, we present novel evidence that the process of creating an event file through causal bridging inferences (Haviland & Clark, 1974) can distort perceptual memory just seconds after the perception of the event,in a manner reminiscent of boundary extension in scene perception (Intraub, 1993). 54 adults watched videos of a person throwing (or launching) an object but that were missing the moment of release (or collision). Roughly ten seconds afterwards, subjects falsely reported seeing the moment of release when it was highly implied by subsequent video footage but did not do so when the release was not implied. Causal implications were disrupted either by replacing the resulting flight of the ball with irrelevant video or by scrambling event segments. Subjects in the different causal implication conditions did not differ on false alarm rates for other unseen pictures that could have appeared in the event, nor did they differ in general recognition accuracy. Thus the increased false alarms were specifically limited to the moment of release and only occurred in those subjects for whom the release was causally implied. These results suggest that as people perceive events, they generate rapid conceptual interpretations that can have powerful effects on how events are remembered and encoded.
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