The Basic-Level Convergence Effect in Memory Distortions

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Whereas most previous findings suggest that memory may become more abstract over time, so that memory for gist outlasts verbatim memory, there are findings suggesting that abstract information may sometimes be instantiated in more specific terms. In this study, we examined the hypothesis that retained information tends to converge at an intermediate level of abstractness - the basic level. In two experiments, we found bidirectional, symmetrical shifts in the memory for story material: Participants presented with either subordinate terms (e.g., sports car) or superordinate terms (e.g., vehicle,) tended to falsely report basic-level terms (e.g., car) instead. This pattern emerged for both recall and recognition memory tests, at both immediate and delayed testing, and under free and forced reporting. The results suggest that the basic level, which has been considered cognitively optimal for perception, categorization, and communication, is also the preferred level for retaining episodic information in memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-59
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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