Does category labeling lead to forgetting?
What effect does labeling an object as a member of a familiar category have on memory for that object? Recent studies suggest that recognition memory can be negatively impacted by categorizing objects during encoding. This paper examines the “representational shift hypothesis” which argues that categorizing an object impairs recognition memory by altering the trace of the encoded memory to be more similar to the category prototype. Previous evidence for this idea comes from experiments in which a basic-level category labeling task was compared to a non-category labeling incidental encoding task, usually a preference judgment (e.g., “Do you like this item?”). In two experiments, we examine alternative tasks that attempt to control for processing demands and the degree to which category information is explicitly recruited at the time of study. Contrary to the predictions of the representational shift hypothesis, we find no evidence that memory is selectively impaired by category labeling. Overall, the pattern of results across both studies appears consistent with well-established variables known to influence memory such as encoding specificity and distinctiveness effects.
KeywordsCategorization Labeling Memory Schema encoding
The preliminary results for this study were presented as part of a final class project in an undergraduate Lab in Human Cognition course at NYU. We especially thank Kate Ray and Frank Lei. We also thank Eric Dewitt, members of the Davachi lab, members of the Daw lab, and the Concepts and Categories (ConCats) group at NYU for helpful discussions in the development of this project.
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