In this study, we investigated the information processing stages underlying associative recognition. We recorded EEG data while participants performed a task that involved deciding whether a probe word triple matched any previously studied triple. We varied the similarity between probes and studied triples. According to a model of associative recognition developed in the Adaptive Control of Thought-Rational cognitive architecture, probe similarity affects the duration of the retrieval stage: Retrieval is fastest when the probe is similar to a studied triple. This effect may be obscured, however, by the duration of the comparison stage, which is fastest when the probe is not similar to the retrieved triple. Owing to the opposing effects of probe similarity on retrieval and comparison, overall RTs provide little information about each stage's duration. As such, we evaluated the model using a novel approach that decomposes the EEG signal into a sequence of latent states and provides information about the durations of the underlying information processing stages. The approach uses a hidden semi-Markov model to identify brief sinusoidal peaks (called bumps) that mark the onsets of distinct cognitive stages. The analysis confirmed that probe type has opposite effects on retrieval and comparison stages.

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