Incidental formation of episodic associations: The importance of sentential context

Anat Prior, Shlomo Bentin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The influence of relevant semantic context on the incidental formation of episodic associations between words was probed in two experiments. In Experiment 1, we examined the influence of associations formed incidentally between unrelated words presented either in isolation or embedded in a sentential context on subsequent explicit paired-associate learning tested by cued recall. The results of Experiment 1 showed that the cued-recall rate of words studied in sentential context was higher than that of words co-occurring in isolated pairs. A subsequent single-items recognition test showed equal item memory for words studied in sentences than for words studied in isolated pairs, suggesting that the sentential context effect in cued recall indeed reflected stronger associations between paired words rather than better memory for single words. In Experiment 2, we ruled out memory for the entire sentence as an alternative explanation for the results of Experiment 1. We suggest two possible mechanisms to account for this advantage: First, pairs embedded in a sentence undergo semantic elaboration that might lead to the incidental formation of an association between them. Second, words embedded in a sentence enjoy the conjoint activation of compatible semantic features, a fact that may also facilitate the formation of an episodic association between them. The implications of these results for computational models using word representations based on co-occurrence data are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)306-316
Number of pages11
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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