Meta-memory surprises

There was a parlor game that was played when I was young. Something in the room would become the focus of attention. Maybe a calendar picture would be remarked on and a short discussion of the picture would follow. The trick was to get people to look carefully at the picture. Then the person who was fooling the rest would suddenly tell everyone to close their eyes and ask them if they thought they could remember the picture. A number of questions are asked of whoever is very confident: how many clouds in the sky?; how many windows in the house?; is the spout of the teapot to the left or right?; what colour is the vase with the flowers in it? The amusement was that the confident person often could not answer the questions.

What about something really simple? Researchers (see citation below) used the Apple logo. They found that people were confident but could not remember the logo well enough to draw it accurately. It is seen so often and is not a thing that has to be distinguished for similar images, so we remember the general gist of it but not the details. Myself, I thought I had drawn it correctly, but no, my leaf touched the apple, and my bite was on the wrong side. There are three things here. Do we remember well enough to: recognize something, reproduce the details of something, have confidence in the memory of it? Most people are very confident, moderately good at recognizing and hopeless with the details. However, we can remember detail if we need to (that seems to me an efficient strategy).

The researchers also make an interesting observation. “However, in naturalistic settings there is probably no intent to encode the details of the Apple logo, leading to an interesting dissociation: Increased exposure increases familiarity and confidence, but does not reliably affect memory. Despite frequent exposure to a simple and visually pleasing logo, attention and memory are not always tuned to remembering what we may think is memorable. ” The colours of the Google logo are also ubiquitous and not actually often remembered.

Here is the abstract: “People are regularly bombarded with logos in an attempt to improve brand recognition, and logos are often designed with the central purpose of memorability. The ubiquitous Apple logo is a simple design and is often referred to as one of the most recognizable logos in the world. The present study examined recall and recognition for this simple and pervasive logo and to what degree metamemory (confidence judgements) match memory performance. Participants showed surprisingly poor memory for the details of the logo as measured through recall (drawings) and forced-choice recognition. Only 1 participant out of 85 correctly recalled the Apple logo, and fewer than half of all participants correctly identified the logo. Importantly, participants indicated higher levels of confidence for both recall and recognition, and this overconfidence was reduced if participants made the judgements after, rather than before, drawing the logo. The general findings did not differ between Apple and PC users. The results provide novel support for theories of attentional saturation, inattentional amnesia, and reconstructive memory; additionally they show how an availability heuristic can lead to overconfidence in memory for logos. ”

Blake, A., Nazarian, M., & Castel, A. (2015). The Apple of the mind’s eye: Everyday attention, metamemory, and reconstructive memory for the Apple logo The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1-8 DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2014.1002798

One thought on “Meta-memory surprises

  1. Lyndon

    This kind of discord buttresses the eliminativist or minimalist position. What we think we are experiencing is not nearly as robust as we claim that it is. The richness of our qualia (and perhaps even the properties of our qualia) are overstated by our theory forming brains.

    Something similar that has tinged my mind recently is about how intricate our behavior and problem solving is. For instance, when I play a musical instrument or some kind of sport, it is questionable how much is really that controlled or that creative within the present time. If we move or react in some seemingly new way, a lot of our body posture and manipulation is something that we have practiced for a long time. In the present moment, the adjustments, judgments, and decisions you make that turns into present behavior is probably narrower in scope than the complex task that you think you are carrying out.

    And maybe the scariest of all, our intellectual lives seem very much carried on in similar fashions. Whether reading something “new” or writing something you “have not written before” there is a great continuation and recycling of internalized, already formed ideas. But often we are not quite sure how that previously ensconced information has helped us do the task that we are doing at the present time. Perhaps we overestimate how much a new line of thought has just dawned us, when it was really an idea that we had been setting our selves up to accept for a while or whose background knowledge we had long been accumulating.

    Anyways, it is not just that the unconscious and habit are powerful players, but that we are not necessarily good at judging what our conscious and choice making actions actually consist in.


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