Metacognitive effects of initial question difficulty on subsequent memory performance

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In two experiments, we examined whether relative retrieval fluency (the relative ease or difficulty of answering questions from memory) would be translated, via metacognitive monitoring and control processes, into an overt effect on the controlled behavior—that is, the decision whether to answer a question or abstain. Before answering a target set of multiple-choice general-knowledge questions (intermediate-difficulty questions in Exp. 1, deceptive questions in Exp. 2), the participants first answered either a set of difficult questions or a set of easy questions. For each question, they provided a forced-report answer, followed by a subjective assessment of the likelihood that their answer was correct (confidence) and by a free-report control decision—whether or not to report the answer for a potential monetary bonus (or penalty). The participants’ ability to answer the target questions (forced-report proportion correct) was unaffected by the initial question difficulty. However, a predicted metacognitive contrast effect was observed: When the target questions were preceded by a set of difficult rather than easy questions, the participants were more confident in their answers to the target questions, and hence were more likely to report them, thus increasing the quantity of freely reported correct information. The option of free report was more beneficial after initial question difficulty than after initial question ease, in terms of both the gain in accuracy (Exp. 2) and a smaller cost in quantity (Exps. 1 and 2). These results demonstrate that changes in subjective experience can influence metacognitive monitoring and control, thereby affecting free-report memory performance independently of forced-report performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1255-1262
Number of pages8
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014, Psychonomic Society, Inc.


  • Confidence
  • Free-report memory testing
  • Metacognition
  • Monitoring and control
  • Relative fluency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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