An unforgettable apple: Memory and attention for forbidden objects

Abstract

Are we humans drawn to the forbidden? From jumbo-sized soft drinks to illicit substances, the influence of prohibited ownership on subsequent demand has made this question a pressing one. We know that objects that we ourselves own have a heightened psychological saliency, relative to comparable objects that are owned by others, but do these kinds of effects extend from self-owned to “forbidden” objects? To address this question, we developed a modified version of the Turk shopping paradigm in which “purchased” items were assigned to various recipients. Participants sorted everyday objects labeled as “self-owned”, “other-owned,” and either “forbidden to oneself” (Experiment 1) or “forbidden to everyone” (Experiment 2). Subsequent surprise recognition memory tests revealed that forbidden objects with high (Experiment 1) but not with low (Experiment 2) self-relevance were recognized as well as were self-owned objects, and better than other-owned objects. In a third and final experiment, we used event-related potentials (ERPs) to determine whether self-owned and self-forbidden objects, which showed a common memory advantage, are in fact treated the same at a neurocognitive–affective level. We found that both object types were associated with enhanced cognitive analysis, relative to other-owned objects, as measured by the P300 ERP component. However, we also found that self-forbidden objects uniquely triggered an enhanced response preceding the P300, in an ERP component (the N2) that is sensitive to more rapid, affect-related processing. Our findings thus suggest that, whereas self-forbidden objects share a common cognitive signature with self-owned objects, they are unique in being identified more quickly at a neurocognitive level.

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Author note

G.T. is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and T.C.H. is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. D.J.T. is supported by a grant from the European Research Council - 202893. We thank Nathan Wispinski, Lara Cooper, and Javier Granados-Samayoa for assistance with data collection.

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Correspondence to Grace Truong.

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Truong, G., Turk, D.J. & Handy, T.C. An unforgettable apple: Memory and attention for forbidden objects. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 13, 803–813 (2013). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-013-0174-6

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Keywords

  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Ownership
  • Forbidden
  • ERP
  • Self-relevance