Encoding and inhibition of arbitrary episodic context with abstract concepts.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Context is critical for conceptual processing, but the mechanism underpinning its encoding and reinstantiation during abstract concept processing is unclear. Context may be especially important for abstract concepts-we investigated whether episodic context is recruited differently when processing abstract compared with concrete concepts. Experiments 1 and 2 presented abstract and concrete words in arbitrary contexts at encoding (Experiment 1: red/green colored frames; Experiment 2: male/female voices). Recognition memory for these contexts was worse for abstract concepts. Again using frame color and voice as arbitrary contexts, respectively, Experiments 3 and 4 presented words from encoding in the same or different context at test to determine whether there was a greater recognition memory benefit for abstract versus concrete concepts when the context was unchanged between encoding and test. Instead, abstract concepts were less likely to be remembered when context was retained. This suggests that at least some types of episodic context-when arbitrary-are attended less, and may even be inhibited, when processing abstract concepts. In Experiment 5, we utilized a context-spatial location-which (as we show) tends to be relevant during real-world processing of abstract concepts. We presented words in different locations, preserving or changing location at test. Location retention conferred a recognition memory advantage for abstract concepts. Thus, episodic context may be encoded with abstract concepts when context is relevant to real-world processing. The systematic contexts necessary for understanding abstract concepts may lead to arbitrary context inhibition, but greater attention to contexts that tend to be more relevant during real-world processing.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Davis, CP; Paz-Alonso, PM; Altmann, GTM; Yee, E

Published Date

  • April 2022

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 50 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 546 - 563

PubMed ID

  • 34409567

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1532-5946

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0090-502X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.3758/s13421-021-01212-y


  • eng