Event-related potentials (ERPs) were used to investigate the neural processes underlying the distinctiveness heuristic— a response mode in which participants expect to remember vivid details of an experience and make recognition decisions based on this metacognitive expectation. One group of participants studied pictures and auditory words; another group studied visual and auditory words. Studied and novel items were presented at test as words only, with all novel items repeating after varying lags. ERP differences were seen between the word and picture groups for both studied and novel items. For the novel items, ERP differences were largest in frontal and central midline electrodes. In separate analyses, the picture group showed the greatest ERP differences between item types in a parietally based component from 550 to 1000 msec, whereas the word group showed the greatest differences in a frontally based component from 1000 to 2000 msec. The authors suggest that the distinctiveness heuristic is a retrieval orientation that facilitates reliance upon recollection to differentiate between item types. Although the picture group can use this heuristic and its retrieval orientation on the basis of recollection, the word group must engage additional postretrieval processes to distinguish between item types, reflecting the use of a different retrieval orientation.

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