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Emily Kopec, Matt Becker, Ashleigh Maxcey; The context account does not explain why remembering some pictures leads to forgetting others. Journal of Vision 2020;20(11):1796. https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.11.1796.
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When we access a visual long-term memory representation, one of the unintended consequences is that we forget related representations. What is driving this forgetting? One theoretical explanation for this phenomenon is that there is a shift in context during these experiments, driving the forgetting effect. This explanation hinges on the fact that in previous experiments demonstrating this forgetting effect, the exposure to pictures of objects unfolds across three phases. In the first phase the objects are studied, in the second phase some items are shown again in an old-new recognition judgment task, and in the third phase visual long-term memory for all the pictures is tested. The context account argues that during the third and final test phase, people activate the context of the second phase to search their memory, because is the most temporally recent context. This contextual activation during the third test phase causes problems remembering the items shown only during the first study phase. The context account makes the clean prediction that if the first phase were reactivated, the apparent effects of forgetting should disappear. Thus, we created distinct contexts for the study and practice phases, either of which could then be reactivated at test. Across two experiments we found reliable forgetting effects, regardless of which context was activated. These results challenge contextual theoretical accounts of the forgetting of visual long-term memory representations.
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