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The categorical structure of semantic memory for famous people: a new approach using release from proactive interference

By Stephen Darling and Tim Valentine


Memory for familiar people is essential to understand their identity and guide social interaction. Nevertheless, we know surprisingly little about the structure of such memory. Previous research has assumed that semantic memory for people has a categorical structure, but recently it was proposed that memory for people consists only of associations and lacks any categorical structure. Four\ud experiments are reported that use a novel approach by adapting the ‘release from proactive interference’ (RPI) methodology for use with lists of famous names. Proactive interference occurs when items presented on successive trials are drawn from the same category. Recall can improve\ud following a change to a different category. Sets of names were selected relating to aspects previously demonstrated, on the basis of reaction time data, to form a category (occupation) and a property (nationality) of celebrities (Johnston & Bruce, 1990). RPI was observed for a change at both levels of representation but was only present without explicitly cueing the change of set when the stimuli differed at the category level. At the property level, RPI was only evident when change of set was explicitly cued. RPI was absent at the set change in a novel, ad hoc distinction suggesting that the effect reflected the underlying memory structure. q 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved

Year: 2005
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