The Effect of Categorical Distinctiveness on Memory Recognition in Adults and Children 7-9 Years Old


  • Alexey Kotov Higher School of Economics
  • Tatyana Kotova Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration


Previous research has shown that knowledge structures like categories affect recognition memory (De Brigard et al., 2016). However, few paradigms allow the direct manipulation of category representation to study their effect on memory performance in adults and children. In this study, we offer a novel experimental paradigm to examine how categorical distinctiveness is related to memory. In the first stage, participants searched for a target image to remember it among five distractor images belonging to another category. The categorical visual search was organized differently: in the low categorical distinctiveness (LCD) condition, the target image was surrounded by perceptually similar images, from the same superordinate category (e.g., cat/dogs); in the high categorical distinctiveness (HCD) condition, it was surrounded by dissimilar objects, from another superordinate category (e.g., cat/chairs). In the second stage, participants solved a recognition test. We expected that visual search would lead to a distortion in remembering, a shift of the memory trace to the prototype (Lupyan, 2008): more false alarms in the LCD condition than in the HCD condition.  Our hypothesis was fully confirmed in adult participants (N=30). In children (N=83) we expected that the effect of category representation on recognition should increase with age: younger children (7-8 year-olds) should be less susceptible to this distortion from category representation, neither the number of hits nor the number of false alarms should differ in LCD and HCD conditions, than older ones (8-9 year-olds). But we haven’t found statistical differences between age groups. At the same time, we found the effect of categorical distinctiveness in each of the children groups: their false alarms and numbers of hits were higher in LCD than HCD condition. The difference in effect between adults and children is particularly strong for false alarms. 

In this experiment we have shown how categorical representation affects recognition and how this effect changes with age. We intend to discuss the mechanism of recognition memory development in children, as well as the advantages and limitations of the proposed paradigm for younger children. 


[1] G. Lupyan, “From chair to ‘chair’: A representational shift account of object labeling effects on memory.,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, vol. 137, no. 2, pp. 348–369, 2008. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.137.2.348

[2] F. De Brigard, T. Brady, L. Ruzic, and D. Schacter, “Tracking the emergence of memories: A category-learning paradigm to explore schema-driven recognition,” Memory & Cognition, vol. 45, no. 1, pp. 105–120, 2016. doi:10.3758/s13421-016-0643-6