Strength cues and blocking at test promote reliable within-list criterion shifts in recognition memory

Jason L. Hicks, Department of Psychology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, 70803-5501, USA,
Jeffrey J. Starns


In seven experiments, we explored the potential for strength-based, within-list criterion shifts in recognition memory. People studied a mix of target words, some presented four times (strong) and others studied once (weak). In Experiments 1, 2, 4A, and 4B, the test was organized into alternating blocks of 10, 20, or 40 trials. Each block contained lures intermixed with strong targets only or weak targets only. In strength-cued conditions, test probes appeared in a unique font color for strong and weak blocks. In the uncued conditions of Experiments 1 and 2, similar strength blocks were tested, but strength was not cued with font color. False alarms to lures were lower in blocks containing strong target words, as compared with lures in blocks containing weak targets, but only when strength was cued with font color. Providing test feedback in Experiment 2 did not alter these results. In Experiments 3A-3C, test items were presented in a random order (i.e., not blocked by strength). Of these three experiments, only one demonstrated a significant shift even though strength cues were provided. Overall, the criterion shift was larger and more reliable as block size increased, and the shift occurred only when strength was cued with font color. These results clarify the factors that affect participants' willingness to change their response criterion within a test list.