Multiple Dimensions of Semantic and Perceptual Similarity Contribute to Mnemonic Discrimination for Pictures

Loris Naspi, Paul Hoffman, Barry Devereux, Tobias Thejll-Madsen, Leonidas A A Doumas, Alexa Morcom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


People often misrecognize objects that are similar to those they have previously encountered. These mnemonic discrimination errors are attributed to shared memory representations (gist) typically characterized in terms of meaning. In two experiments, we investigated multiple semantic and perceptual relations that may contribute: at the concept level, a feature-based measure of concept confusability quantified each concept’s tendency to activate other similar concepts via shared features; at the item level, rated item exemplarity indexed the degree to which the specific depicted objects activated their particular concepts. We also measured visual confusability over items using a computational model of vision, and an index of color confusability. Participants studied single (Experiment 1, N = 60) or multiple (Experiment 2, N = 60) objects for each basic-level concept, followed by a recognition memory test including studied items, similar lures, and novel items. People were less likely to recognize studied items with high concept confusability, and less likely to falsely recognize their lures. This points to weaker basic-level semantic gist representations for objects with more confusable concepts because of greater emphasis on coarse processing of shared features relative to fine-grained processing of individual concepts. In contrast, people were more likely to misrecognize lures that were better exemplars of their concept, suggesting that enhanced basic-level semantic gist processing increased errors due to gist across items. False recognition was also more frequent for more visually confusable lures. The results implicate semantic similarity at multiple levels and highlight the importance of perceptual as well as semantic relations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1903-1923
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Issue number12
Early online date02 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Psychological Association


  • Episodic memory
  • Mnemonic discrimination
  • Perceptual gist
  • Recognition memory
  • Semantic gist

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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