Selective attention effects on recognition: the roles of list context and perceptual difficulty

  • Hanae DavisEmail author
  • Tamara M. Rosner
  • Maria C. D’Angelo
  • Ellen MacLellan
  • Bruce Milliken
Original Article


Two recent studies reported superior recognition memory for items that were incongruent targets than for items that were congruent targets in a prior incidental study phase (Krebs et al. in Cereb Cortex (New York, NY) 25(3):833–843, 2015; Rosner et al. in Psychol Res 79(3):411–424, 2015). The present study examined this effect further by addressing two issues. First, we examined whether this effect is sensitive to the list context in which congruent and incongruent items are presented. In Experiment 1, this issue was addressed by manipulating the relative proportions of congruent and incongruent trials in the study phase. In Experiments 2A and 2B, the same issue was examined by contrasting randomly intermixed and blocked manipulations of congruency. The results of these experiments, as well as a trial-to-trial sequence analysis, demonstrate that the recognition advantage for incongruent over congruent items is robust and remarkably insensitive to list context. Second, we examined recognition of incongruent and congruent items relative to a single word baseline condition. Incongruent (Experiment 3A) and congruent (Experiment 3B) items were both better recognized than single word items, though this effect was substantially stronger for incongruent items. These results suggest that perceptual processing difficulty, rather than interference caused by different target and distractor identities on its own, contributes to the enhanced recognition of incongruent items. Together, the results demonstrate that processes that are sensitive to perceptual processing difficulty of items but largely insensitive to list context produce heightened recognition sensitivity for incongruent targets.



Financial support for this study was provided in part by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant awarded to Bruce Milliken and an NSERC Doctoral Postgraduate Scholarship awarded to Hanae Davis.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and BehaviourMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  2. 2.Centre for Teaching Support and InnovationUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.DelphiaTorontoCanada

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