Make or break it: Boundary conditions for integrating multiple elements in episodic memory


Event memories are characterised by the holistic retrieval of their constituent elements. Studies show that memory for individual event elements (e.g., person, object, and location) are statistically related to each other, and that the same associative memory structure can be formed by learning all pairwise associations across separated encoding contexts (person-object, person-location, object-location). Counter to previous studies that have shown no differences in holistic retrieval between simultaneously and separately encoded event elements, adults did not show evidence of holistic retrieval from separately encoded event elements when using a similar paradigm adapted for children (Experiment 1). We conducted a further five online experiments to explore the conditions under which holistic retrieval emerges following separated encoding of within-event associations, testing for influences of trial length (Experiment 2), the number of events learned (Experiment 3a), and stimulus presentation format (Experiments 3b, 4a, 4b). Presentation of written words was optimal for integrating elements across encoding trials, whereas use of spoken words and pictures disrupted integration across separately presented associations. These findings potentially highlight the importance of visual imagery processes for integrating event elements across encoding contexts, and have practical implications for the utility of this paradigm across research and learning contexts.

Royal Society Open Science (accepted)
Emma James
Emma James
Researcher in Psychology