Strong memories are hard to scale

Laura Mickes, Vivian Hwe, Peter E Wais, John T Wixted

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


People are generally skilled at using a confidence scale to rate the strength of their memories over a wide range. Specifically, low-confidence recognition decisions are often associated with close-to-chance accuracy, whereas high-confidence recognition decisions can be associated with close-to-perfect accuracy. However, using a 20-point rating scale, the authors found that the ability to scale memory strength had its limitations in that a high proportion of list items received the highest rating of 20. Efforts to induce participants to differentiate between these strong memories using emphatic instructions and alternative scales were not successful. Remember/know judgments indicated that these strong and hard-to-scale memories were often based on familiarity (not just recollection). Providing error feedback on a plurals discrimination task finally produced a high-confidence criterion shift. The authors suggest that the ability to scale strong (and almost perfectly accurate) memories may be limited because of the absence of differential error feedback for very strong memories in the past (the kind of differential error feedback that may account for the memory-scaling expertise that participants otherwise exhibit).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-57
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2011

Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science
  • Memory


  • Decision Making
  • Feedback, Psychological
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Normal Distribution
  • ROC Curve
  • Recognition (Psychology)
  • Signal Detection, Psychological
  • Uncertainty
  • Verbal Learning

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